Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Regulation must not rule!

The number of regulations contained within the Independent Schools Inspectorate framework has increased from around 10 to around 400 in just over a decade, while high achieving academic schools appear at the foot of some national examination league tables due to the fact that they offer qualifications not recognised in official government circles.  In recent times schools have been issued with regulatory guidance updates only to then receive additional revisions several times in the weeks following. This generates uncertainty and adds enormously to the already very burdensome regulatory work load placed on schools. The sheer cost of managing and implementing the regulatory demands in financial and man-hour terms is immense, and is to the detriment of core educational provision. The ubiquitous Anthony Seldon wrote that “The crushing burdens of state requirements, league tables and inspection regimes have squeezed the lifeblood and originality out of much of the sector.”  Mr Seldon’s educational standpoints are frequently worthy of discussion and debate, and on this issue I do feel he has a very valid point.

While I hope the current political leadership will be a positive one for independent education,  I am fully anticipating a further increase in regulatory requirements, escalating the already heavy burden of paperwork and red tape which can only place more pressure on teachers who simply want to stimulate and educate their pupils as best they can. I do wonder if ministers have sometimes lost sight of the real purpose of education while weaving their intricate web of regulation.

Academic results are acknowledged as essential keys to open the doors to the next stage of education and for the world of work, and very valuable skills are acquired in the pursuit of these qualifications. Independent schools are proud of their success in external examinations and university entrance and Canford is proud to be at the forefront of top grade academic success - ranked in the top 25 in the country for A*/A grades at A Level last summer by Best Schools UK.

However, I firmly believe that academic success in independent schools is also as a result of the wider co-curricular enrichment opportunities they offer which generate a culture of curiosity and aspiration.  I would be very sorry to see these diminish further due to schools feeling increasingly weighed down by regulation.  Whether or not to run an inspirational school trip close to home or further afield, for example, is now carefully considered given the additional time required to complete all the necessary paperwork.  Last summer holidays alone there were eleven trips involving 217 pupils and 37 staff.  Canfordians headed to the Red Sea for a CCF diving expedition, to orphanages in Tanzania, Ghana, India and Argentina, to UK based CCF camps, to a geographical expedition to Iceland, to D of E trips on Dartmoor and to a rugby pre season camp in France. The skills and insights the pupils develop and what they learn from such experiences are not always tangible and quantifiable but they are invaluable as part of their personal educational development.

We want our pupils to see the connections between and coherence across the different, varied and enriching elements of independent school life.  What one learns as part of a team on the sports pitch can provide the confidence, self- discipline and motivation to perform better in the classroom.   The time made available to debate the latest world issues in a Canford Global Forum, to play a role in a school or house drama production or be part of one of the school orchestras or ensemble groups can provide the catalyst to transform a pupil’s future.  The opportunity to tackle the Ten Tors on Dartmoor, to contribute to local community partnerships or to give children in inner city communities the chance of some time away are all initiatives which provide our pupils with a sense of what fundamental human values are alongside a feeling of personal achievement and belonging. This in turn develops skills which are very relevant to both their own education, and to the society in which they live and work well beyond their schooldays.

Through innovation and originality, independent schools foster in every pupil the enthusiasm to broaden their horizon, to achieve highly and to have respect and empathy for others.  The importance and impact of this on their overall education cannot be underestimated.   I do hope that this hallmark of an independent education will be allowed to continue – and to flourish.

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