27 May 11

Sometimes we need bureaucracy and 'red tape'

Whether it's the school admissions consultation, the teachers' performance management and capability consultation, protecting 'front line services' while cutting 'back office functions', or replacing books and the school library with hi-tech devices (Wellington College), it's all about "ditching", "scrapping", "throwing out", "cutting bureaucracy", "unnecessary prescription", "cut the red tape", "simpler", "more transparent", "slimmed-down documents" "half as many requirements", "unnecessary guidance", "prescriptive guidance" that gets in the way of "flexibility", "free schools"

Yes, there can be too many rules and regulations, but the desire to scrap them to make things "simpler" and "easier" should be treated with caution.

One person's bureaucracy can be another's protection. The presence of guidance can keep control of how things are done correctly and how staff are treated.

In previous posts, we have also warned about:

Too little detail can also make documents vague and unclear.

As Mr Gove said on the Admissions Code consultation, "You shouldn't have to hire a lawyer to navigate the school system", but too much transparency and over-simplification could also mean that the lawyers are needed to advise on what the regulations are trying to say or fail to say instead of trying to interpret what over-complex language means.

Allowing some schools to grow without reference to any area planning of school places could lead to a situation of surplus places while other schools wither and die.

The abolition of the GTCE will mean not only registration for lecturers but not teachers but also, unjustly and unfairly, the removal of graded sanctions teachers will either be banned or not banned at the decision of the Secretary of State.

Without 'bureaucrats', organisation breaks down and paperwork ends up on the desks of 'front line' staff.

How long will it be before the politicians and journalists who delight in the simplistic removal of 'red tape' call for tighter regulations as the unsuitable or the vulnerable or the exceptions to the simplistic rule 'slip through the net'?

The rope that binds and restricts can also protect when it is in the form of a net or a lifeline that catches those that fall and prevents them harming themselves or others.

While walking on holiday recently, the author encountered some mountain-bikers confused about their location. They had the local Ordnance Survey map downloaded as an app on a phone, but the size of the screen meant that they could view only a small area of the map at any one time. Yes it was neat and simple and compact, but also disorienting, especially when they were trying to ride and then stop and look at it. The author's old fashioned paper map revealed the bigger picture the length and shape of the track, the mountains on the horizon, the pattern of the wood's boundary in the landscape.

There's the old saying about not being able to see the wood for the trees, but without any trees there would be no wood.

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