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Privates seek help handling red tape

The number of worried independent schools asking for advice on how to deal with an expanding web of red tape has "trebled" in two years, the head of the main body inspecting private schools has claimed.

Christine Ryan, chief inspector at the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), said "hundreds" of worried heads, bursars and governors were contacting her organisation.

She said the surge had coincided with the introduction of the Government's new Vetting and Barring Scheme and the Early Years Foundation Stage.

Short-notice inspections, where schools have just five days to prepare, also started last month, increasing schools' sense of insecurity.

She said many of the requests for help could also be put down to increasing "overlap and inconsistency" between the regulations required by different bodies.

An independent school with a nursery section, day school and boarding provision, for example, would be accountable to the ISI, Ofsted, and the Charity Commission, among many others.

A big problem, she added, was that some heads needed help to differentiate between guidance and regulations.

Ms Ryan, who is due to speak to the annual conference of the Association of Governing Bodies of Independent Schools in London on Monday, said: "If I picture myself as a busy head or governor trying to tell the difference, it's not always easy to do."

The ISI has already told a review of the new Vetting and Barring Scheme that there needs to be a shake-up of the regulatory framework to make it easier for schools to ensure they comply.

Ms Ryan said: "It is not so much about the quantity of regulation but the complexity and variety of it.

"As an inspectorate we want to work with Ofsted to deliver a coherent and sensible message to schools. But it can be quite tricky. Schools really need to know their way around the regulations and for smaller schools it can be much more difficult.

"But there is increased awareness that they can ask for help, we don't want to leave schools floundering around. We want schools to keep it in perspective, but that is not to negate their concerns."

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