Mayday, mayday. Too many changes, too often

Independent schools want new regulations to be introduced just once a year – let’s say published on May 1 ready for implementation on September 1

Heads and senior management have only so many hours in the day and we want them to spend a good proportion of those hours educating pupils. Regulations are essential, but at some point too many regulations reduces their effectiveness and starts to detract from the main purpose of a school.

In recent years the government and Ofqual have made a number of changes that most independent schools support: the revised national curriculum and associated changes to GCSEs, the reforms to A-level syllabuses, the abolition of modules and consequent limits on re-sitting and the cash-in/don’t cash-in madness, abolition of controlled assessment tasks and January exams, a new GCSE grading scale that discriminates more at the top end and strict controls on grade inflation. These were all needed.

Schools can become angry or cynical about the number of changes

But now we need stability. These changes create a great deal of work for subject teachers (especially the syllabus reform) and we will only see how successful they have been if they are allowed to roll-out over the next few years without more tinkering.

The first results for the reformed GCSEs and A-levels will be in 2017, 2018 and 2019. We need at least five sets of results to see whether standards are truly rising. That takes us to 2024.

Independent schools have also been struck by the number of regulation changes in the past two years, not least those associated
with British values and extremism, but also to the Early Years Statutory Framework (a successful head complained to me last
week about the craziness of regulations applying to the management of break time, for example).

Many independent schools have to comply with more than 400 individual requirements. The simpler boarding school standards of 2010 improved things – which is why we badly need the promised “bonfire of regulations”.

Sometimes regulations are poorly drafted, such as the guidance that followed the Childcare (Disqualification) Regulations 2009. This went through several iterations until it was got right. We also have to follow statutory guidance such as Keeping Children Safe in Education, which was first published in April 2014 and then revised within the first year.

Similarly, the regulations for spiritual, moral, social and cultural development were changed last January, but then changed again a year later – before the first changes had the chance to show any impact. Then came the immigration rules from the Home Office, spelling-out requirements for schools that sponsor international pupils and which change constantly.

Most heads complain that every set of changes requires the school to go right through all its documentation making corrections that then have to be passed on to staff through training.

For government regulations to be effective they need to be clear (“actively promoting British values” is not clear), and yet they need to be taken on board by schools. There comes a point where schools become angry or cynical about the number of changes or, in some cases, they find they cannot cope with the volume.

Changes to regulations result in changes to inspection requirements. Before the election Nicky Morgan conducted the teacher workload challenge, later proposing that changes to inspection requirements should become much less frequent.

We would be happy if there was one set of changes at a fixed point each year – consultation in January-February, published on May 1 for implementation on September 1. This is partly about managing teacher workload but partly about making it much more likely that schools will be able to implement the changes. It would be a welcome reform.

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