Schools are hit by more 'ministerial fiddling' than any other public sector

The Lords will hold an inquiry into Whitehall system that burdened heads with 135 new curriculum regulations in just one year

Warwick Mansell

Schools are on the receiving end of more government regulations than any other public sector, a parliamentary committee disclosed.

The little-known House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee is now launching an investigation into the issue.

In the last full legislative session, 2006-07, the Department for Education and Skills - as it was then called - produced 135 changes to laws for headteachers to handle. In the same period, the Ministry of Defence, fighting wars in two countries, introduced only 24 law changes for the armed forces. The 135 education regulations represent a change in the law but do not require a bill to be put into effect.

The next most prolific producer of changes to regulations was the Department for Constitutional Affairs with 127.

The problem for heads has seen no let-up since the DfES split in June, 2007, into the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. In July of this year alone, the DCSF produced 30 regulations, including 12 detailed changes to the national curriculum at key stage 3.

The proliferation of school regulations, which produce masses of new paperwork, is now the subject of an inquiry by the Lords committee. Lord Filkin, its chairman, said: "No one doubts the importance of the schools sector, or the need for proper regulation. But could the process be managed better?"

A preliminary report from the committee said: "We were concerned by the volume of statutory instruments laid by DCSF in August 2007, required to be put into effect by the time the new term started. We felt that this would put unnecessary pressure on school administration."

It added that civil servants carried out "far more rigorous" assessments of the potential burdens on business of introducing a new regulation than they did for public sector bodies. A separate report submitted to the committee by the DCSF on the introduction of the new secondary curriculum illustrates a feeling in schools that ministers needed to slow down.

"The main issue raised during consultation was whether, given the scale of other reforms scheduled to impact on schools from 2008, implementation might be delayed until 2009," the separate report read. "Following advice from policy officials in June 2007, ministers agreed that implementation of the revised secondary curriculum should continue as planned from September 2008."

The committee is due to hold evidence sessions with a final report due early in the new year.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The extraordinary number of statutory items are a major constraint on the capacity of state schools to deliver what the Government wants in terms of raising standards.

"Schools and colleges suffer particularly from ministerial fiddling.

"This ensures that the desks of headteachers are groaning under the weight of paper that will mostly go into the recycling bin, as soon as the head thinks it's safe to do so."

Dr Dunford added that he supported the introduction of the new secondary curriculum this year because it gave schools more flexibility in their teaching.

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Warwick Mansell

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