As the chief executive of a multi-academy trust, my team of three executives and myself spend nearly all of our time trying to make sure that the trust and the schools within in are following all the rules. But it is impossible to be 100 per cent compliant.
Not only is there a ridiculous amount of red tape, but it is being added to all the time and no one can keep track of it. Quite a lot is inconsistent — one bit of red tape is contradicted by another — and we cannot work out what to do. Our solicitors are no help and neither are our Department for Education (DfE) advisers. They do not have a clue. We just have to guess.
Sometimes, inspectors descend on one of our schools from some agency or other and highlight a bit of red tape that we are not complying with. When you check afterwards, there is nothing about it anywhere. Nothing in the Academies Financial Handbook, nothing on the DfE’s website. You google it and nothing comes up. You end up thinking, “How the f*** were we supposed to know about that?” And, of course, every time there is some political scandal — such as Trojan horse — the DfE’s response is to churn out another lorry load of red tape.
Inspectors descend on one of our schools from some agency or other and highlight a bit of red tape
Not only is this a colossal waste of time and money, but there is a huge opportunity cost. What my team and I would like to be focusing on is school improvement, but there is no time for that. After two years, it has finally dawned on me that the best possible support we can offer our headteachers is to take all this box-ticking bollocks off their hands. At least they can then focus on what is happening in the classroom, even if we cannot.
The answer has to be to reduce the role of Ofsted and all the other regulators so they just inspect schools where there are real problems. For the rest, some form of peer assessment would be better. If schools are getting good results and their finances are in order, they should not have to spend so much time worrying about compliance. It turns educators into petty-minded bureaucrats and eats away at your soul.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator and co-founder of several free schools