The consultation on proposed changes to the standards under which BSOs are inspected was completed some time ago and several overseas schools organisations and others have submitted their feedback. It is safe to say that all of us had expected to have heard by now a response to the consultation and to have received a revised set of final regulations.
The reasons for the delayed publication of revisions to the system could be varied and many; one does, however, hope that one of these is that the government is taking very seriously the criticisms expressed of the more contentiously worded standards.
A particularly thorny issue is the requirement in the draft regarding the promotion of ”protected characteristics”, as described in UK equality legislation. This requirement has to be observed by schools in the United Kingdom and is based on principles with which all headteachers and principals, with whom I have talked, generally agree. There is no conflict of principles here – the UK is a world-leader in such matters.
What IS problematic is that the implementation of these principles in some countries around the world, would be illegal could result in legal action against school leaders, with imprisonment and deportation being a genuine possibility in one or more jurisdictions. Actions against schools could also follow. This is surely not an outcome that the British Government would welcome! One source has estimated that close to sixty BSOs would find it impossible to implement the regulations as described in the draft document. Hopefully, the feedback received to the consultation process will lead to a re-think on this and other controversial matters.
I am certain that what schools would find acceptable is a generic responsibility to do as much as the jurisdiction within which a school operates permits – and, to be successful in a BSO inspection, the report would have to confirm that this is the case. As a minimum, perhaps the regulations could mandate that schools inculcate through the formal curriculum, the co-curriculum and the school culture, the type of concept described in my own school in the opening of our definition of the Global Citizen….
(She) ……. knows there are many national, cultural, religious and personal frameworks
within which a person can live a good and productive life.
This kind of definition (still slightly problematic perhaps in a very small number of countries) allows us to do whatever we can, consistent with local legal and cultural requirements, to increase the disposition of our students to become tolerant and open-minded adults. This might not reach the level required under equality legislation in the UK; but it would allow BSOs to encourage and inculcate a good slice of what have been described by UK politicians as “British values”.
If, on the other hand, the final regulations do not allow flexibility in this area, then whole tranches of the globe will, very soon, contain no BSOs at all. This will not serve the needs of parents, UK PLC, the preservation of soft power or the needs for a stronger cultural diplomacy strategy.
SO … please, DfE; don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater – give BSOs the flexibility we need to continue to provide an excellent British education, (under a prestigious, UK-recognised BSO “brand”) that increases students’ likelihood to continue to Higher Education in the United Kingdom and, when they move into positions of influence, to be favourably disposed towards the UK when making investment, political and other strategic decisions.