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Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, 23:26 GMT 00:26 UK
Teachers threaten work to rule
teacher in empty classroom
Teachers say they need more time for teaching
Teachers are threatening to cut their hours if bureaucracy in schools is not reduced.

A union leader has warned that a working hour limit could be put in place in the autumn if other measures to cut red tape do not work.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said teachers were swamped with bureaucracy, which looked set to be made much worse by the implementation of the new performance pay system.

At the union's annual conference at Easter, members will be asked to sanction a ballot to decide whether action - short of strikes - should go ahead to ease the burden.

Nigel de Gruchy
Nigel de Gruchy: "Working to a sensible rule"

The action would "reduce workload and bureaucracy, and eventually establish an overall limit on the amount of time a teacher can be required to deliver".

The move follows the publication last week of a report into red tape in schools by the Better Regulation Task Force, which said schools were over-burdened with bureaucracy.

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, responded by saying a number of steps would be taken to try to tackle the problem, including using the internet in schools to reduce paperwork and cut bureaucracy.

Red tape 'toolkit'

But on Thursday, Mr de Gruchy said that the moves the government had already made to cut red tape in schools had not worked, partly because teachers were too conscientious, and partly because of pressure from head teachers and local education authorities.

While the union's position on performance pay remained one of "critical neutrality", it was alarmed that its implementation carried the potential "seriously to escalate the continuing problem of excessive workload and bureaucracy".

person using photocopier
Bureaucracy guidance rules out bulk photocpying

If union members decided to go ahead with action, they would start by strictly adhering to government anti-bureaucracy guidance.

This includes the red tape "toolkit", launched last year, in an attempt to help schools streamline the way they work.

The guidance includes a list of tasks which the government says teachers should not carry out, such as chasing pupil absences, bulk photocopying, administering exams, stocktaking, and classroom displays.

Members could also decide to ignore new government guidelines on sex education, drafted in an effort to placate opponents of the government's intention to repeal Section 28, which bans local authorities from promoting homosexuality.

'Industrial action with a halo'

Mr de Gruchy said that not many people would argue with the content of the guidelines, which were "common sense", but that they would place an added bureaucracy burden on teachers.

If these measures, which could be carried out this summer, failed to cut teachers' working hours to a reasonable level from the average of up to 52 hours a week they were currently estimated to work, the union's action would be stepped up to fix a limit on working hours.

This would aim to force the government to rewrite the existing teachers' contract which commits them to 1,256 hours of "directed" work a year, but says they must also work whatever extra hours are necessary to fulfil their duties.

Mr de Gruchy would not specify on Thursday what limit on hours the union might set, but said the 48 hours in the EU's Working Time Directive could be a guide.

He said the action would be "industrial action with a halo", which would not harm pupils' education.

"It would be working to a sensible rule, doing what the DfEE itself actually recommends. How can it object?"

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See also:

05 Apr 00 | Education
Internet to cut school red tape
19 Nov 99 | Education
Red tape toolkit 'not enough'
09 Sep 99 | Education
Helpline for stressed teachers
03 Jan 00 | Education
Pupils are 'best aspect of teaching'
30 Mar 00 | Education
Blunkett fights back on sex teaching
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