'Cut out the red tape,' says girls' schools chief
The "tidal wave" of regulation that has engulfed education does nothing to create good schools, and stops staff from "thinking out of the box", the new president of the Girls' Schools Association has warned.
Gillian Low said schools were sinking under an "incredible burden" of bureaucracy that created a "tick box mentality" in place of good judgment and common sense.
In an interview with The TES, Mrs Low railed against the culture of regulation that has emerged in both private and state sectors in the past six or seven years.
The president, who is head of the highly selective Lady Eleanor Holles School in Richmond upon Thames, joins a chorus of voices across the education world complaining about red tape.
In December, the seven organisations representing headteachers across both sectors wrote to Schools Secretary Ed Balls complaining that the new Vetting and Barring scheme was "disproportionate to risk".
Mrs Low said: "Regulation isn't a means to school improvement. We have to be accountable; some laws are important, especially regarding safeguarding, for example, but I question whether the level of regulation is necessary or conducive to running good schools."
She said that while it was vital to have fire drills and bullying policies, the high level of detail demanded was "hemming in" staff.
The issue of over-regulation is expected to become one of Mrs Low's themes this year as the prospect of a Conservative government looms large.
Michael Gove, shadow schools secretary, has already promised to cut bureaucracy and give schools more freedom by creating more academies and "free schools" set up by parents, teachers or other groups.
However, Mrs Low warned that pre-election promises may be hard to keep, and that Mr Gove may not find it easy to "unravel" the web of regulation.
She said that becoming GSA president in such a politically critical year was "exciting" and she looked forward to contributing to the pre-election debate.
"We are very happy to work with government in whatever way seems appropriate," she said. "We want independent schools to become part of the educational landscape."
However, the divorced mother-of-three, whose school charges more than #163;12,500 a year in tuition fees, said the next year will be "challenging" as independent schools try to weather the recession.
She said: "In the difficult times we are in, I want to promote the good value that independent schools offer, in terms of providing an all-round education through arts, sport and other extra-curricular activities. You can get that from the maintained sector, but there are more constraints and different schools offer different things.
"Education is the greatest investment parents can make."
Mrs Low taught English for 13 years in state comprehensives before embracing independent single-sex education in her first deputy headship at The Godolphin and Latymer School in Hammersmith, west London.
Now, as head of Lady Eleanor Holles, she is piloting the A-level extended project, designed to stretch the brightest pupils.
It was devised to counter criticisms that A-levels are too formulaic and do not offer enough challenge for high-flyers.
Many independent schools have shunned A-levels in favour of the International Baccalaureate, which automatically includes an extended element.
She said: "The girls have been really enthused by the project; it is empowering. They know vast amounts about a tiny little thing. It is very similar to university study.
"But the whole range of grades is available - it is not just for the best students, but anyone who can identify with learning."
GILLIAN LOW - CV
2004 to present: Headteacher, Lady Eleanor Holles School, Hampton, Richmond
1998 - 2004: Headteacher, Francis Holland School, north London
1994 - 1998: Deputy head, The Godolphin and Latymer School, Hammersmith
1989 - 1994: Head of English, Bishop Ramsey CofE School, Ruislip, Middlesex
1981 - 1988: English teacher, Claverham Community College, Battle, East Sussex
1980 - 1981: PGCE Cambridge (Trinity)
1979 - 1980: Teaching in Italy
1977 - 1979: Management trainee, Courtaulds.