EVERY time I speak to a teacher, nurse, social worker, Jobcentre Plus manager, police officer or council worker, one issue comes up again and again: their battle with bureaucracy.
Take teaching. Some people are still under the misguided impression that it’s a profession built around short days and long holidays. But talk to a teacher and they’ll tell you about their working week of 50 hours or more. They’ll also tell you how much of this time they feel is wasted on box-ticking and form filling.
We’re talking about hours spent struggling to stay on top of piles of incident reports, over-detailed lesson plan templates, health and safety forms, departmental updates, training requests and so on that threaten to engulf them. Not to mention the reams of additional evidence which teachers pull together because of a long-held belief that Ofsted inspectors want to see everything written down.
Some of this work is unavoidable. Every school needs to ensure the safety of its pupils and staff and maintain the highest standards possible. But should you really have to fill in multiple risk assessment forms for every school trip when just one form would be better?
Ask any teacher and they’ll give you at least two more examples like that: whether it’s having to highlight their lesson plans in five different colours or inputting every pupil’s marks into countless different spreadsheets.
I believe it’s time for us to stop that runaway train of bureaucracy in its tracks, giving our teachers more time to do what they do best: creating and planning the best possible lessons and experiences for our children. In Government, we’ve already done this for businesses: freeing up money and resources for millions of companies.
I’d like us to do the same for the public sector – starting with teachers. This is part of the wider work being done to tackle the issue of workload across the teaching profession, following talks with the trade unions.
It has already produced a new myth-busting document from Ofsted, which clarifies what’s expected of teachers for school inspections.
I’m pleased to announce with Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, the launch of our new Workload Challenge for teachers. We’re asking teachers across the country to take a long hard look at how they spend their working day and what pointless processes and paperwork they think should be cut.
In the New Year, a panel led by teachers and educators will scrutinise the best ideas, then work with Ofsted, the teaching unions and other education stakeholders to put them into action starting early next year.
If we can show this pilot working in education, I want to get it rolled out as soon as possible to our other public services too.
Many people choose to work in the public sector because, when you see someone in trouble or in need of support, you want to step in and help. Yet being that person day in and day out – dealing with people who are often disengaged, frustrated, angry or at risk of hurting themselves or others – can, of course, take its toll.
These kinds of pressures are especially acute for Britain’s emergency service workers. Our ambulance workers, paramedics, firemen, police, the Coastguard, all get thrown in to incredibly stressful situations.
When the shift ends, they go home to their families and try to be a good partner, friend, mum or dad. But if there’s no way of dealing with the day’s challenges, the pressure can become too much. In the most extreme circumstances, this causes burn out and people leaving the job altogether. In discussions with the Government, workers from across our blue-light services have told us that they want more support to prevent and deal with these mental and emotional demands.
Throughout this coalition, the Liberal Democrats have fought for the resources to secure equal treatment for mental health with physical health.
That is why I’ve asked the mental health organisation Mind to work with our emergency services personnel to develop and trial a new package of Front-line Mental Health support.
We know this kind of support has already had a huge impact in other countries and services, for example the US Army – where, since 2008, resilience training has helped to reduce rates of anxiety and depression amongst over one million soldiers. But it’s not been tried and tested in the UK on this scale before.
These jobs are not easy. They’re not for the faint hearted, but people do them because they want to make a difference.
That’s why in the Liberal Democrats, we believe it’s so critical to give people the professional opportunities and support they need, This is my commitment and that of my party to you: we’ll keep doing what we can to ensure our Government empowers, values and listens to the public sector more.
Nick Clegg is the Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP who gave a speech on public sector reform. This is an edited version.