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Decisions, decisions, ... 8 – What to do now? 

 Decisions (by Yvonne Hall)In these articles I have talked about the role of a central repository for information and standards on the technical aspects of ringing. I have given a brief overview of what is covered by the Central Council’s Decisions on methods and peals and I have explained some of the reasons they are criticised. There is a fairly broad consensus that change is needed, but how much should change, and how it should change, is less clear cut. Even those who criticise the Decisions have a range of views about how radically they should be altered.

It’s not surprising that we have different personal preferences, but the task of those who revise the Decisions is to determine how best to meet the needs of the ringing community as a whole with something that will command the widespread respect of ringers despite their differing range of personal preferences.

In this final article I will summarise some of the possible changes and discuss areas where the right compromise might be hard to find.


Ways the Decisions could be made less prescriptive include:

These changes would have avoided many historic conflicts where methods were either outlawed or forced to be reclassified in ways that didn’t reflect the essence of what was rung. The more open approach would be welcomed by many but it could introduce ambiguities. How important is this?


Ways in which the Council could engage with a broader section of the ringing community include:

These would help the Council to seem less remote from rank and file ringers as well as being more supportive of leading edge ringers.


There are many arbitrary constraints that could be removed from the Decisions, for example:

These rules have some staunch defenders, but would their loss materially undermine the essence of ringing?

Performance standards

A tricky area on which to obtain a consensus may be the requirements for performances. I listed the current ones in the second article, along with examples of the sort of things they exclude.

During recent discussions about possible changes, several people mentioned ‘lines in the sand’ beyond which they felt any relaxation should not go. In contemporary politics these might be termed ‘red lines’. The problem of course is that different people put their red lines in different places. The only way the Council could avoid stepping over anyone’s red line would be to take the most restrictive stance, as the current Decisions tend to do. But doing that excludes a lot of things that many ringers would be happy to accept. Alternatively, if the Council took a less restrictive stance there would no doubt be some who accused it of devaluing the peal standard, and demeaning the achievement of those who have rung peals in the past.

It is a dilemma that can’t be solved just by changing words (for example from acceptance to compliance or to any other term separating ‘in’ from ‘out’). Is there a way to include more performances without devaluing the achievement of others? An approach has been suggested (outlined below) but it hasn’t yet been tested by public opinion.

Norms and reporting

A peal of 23 spliced all the work Surprise Major is clearly more of an achievement than a peal of Plain Bob Major (assuming ringers of comparable ability). Reporting both as peals does not undermine the achievement of the former because each report makes it clear what was rung. They can be judged independently on their merits and the standing of the respective performers based on what they achieved, neither diluted nor enhanced by the fact that their performances share the name ‘peal’.

Many attributes of peals are not mentioned explicitly, but taken as read because everyone assumes they apply. If someone published a peal that didn’t conform to these expectations it would be considered dishonest, and if the practice became widespread it would indeed undermine the peal as a respected standard.

But what if a peal were published, openly stating how it differed from the norm? Obviously it could be judged on its merits. Would it undermine the value of other peals? We accept that some differences from the norm will be declared in the performance report, for example ‘all the work’, ‘silent and non-conducted’ or ‘rung blindfolded’. These features too are judged on their merits, and don’t change our assumptions about the status of peals in general.

Most of our expectations about how peals are rung currently feature in the Council’s Decisions as ‘requirements for all peals’. But stating them as ‘requirements’ draws a line with ‘peals’ on one side and something else (currently ‘non-compliant peals’) on the other side – like sheep and goats. The alternative approach would be to define these features not as ‘requirements’ but as ‘reporting norms’ – things that can be assumed unless stated otherwise in the report. That could allow the whole spectrum of performances to be reported on an equal footing, with the onus on the conductor to report any aspect that differed from the norm. Nothing would be hidden. Nothing would be dishonest. Everything could be judged on its merits.

Records and analysis

The Council would still have to decide whether, and if so how, to take account in its analysis of the fact that some peals differed from the norm. In practice the number of such performances is likely to be extremely small, whether in the ‘easy’ direction (such as ringing in relays or calling from outside the circle) or in the ‘hard’ direction (such as ringing non-conducted or ringing blindfolded) or neutral (such as ringing dumbbells with simulated sound). So while it might be worth noting performances that differ from the norm, it is unlikely to be worth separating them out from the main statistical analyses in terms of the overall picture.


In the earlier article I mentioned the very stringent requirements stated in the Decisions for the correction of calling or method errors, and the absence of any requirement for good striking in performances. In reality (with the exception of record performances that have umpires) ringing performances are not policed – conductors are trusted to apply appropriate standards. Most of them do, though a few may not. Some conductors apply a slightly higher standard for peals than for shorter performances, and almost certainly some conductors have applied a higher or lower standard in exceptional circumstances. Should the Decisions remind conductors of this responsibility?

The way forward

I hope these articles have helped to bring alive for rank and file ringers some of the issues that have been exercising the experts for quite a while. Inevitably I had to simplify some things and I could not cover everything.

I was motivated to write the articles not just because I think we need change, but because I feel strongly that the standards at the heart of change ringing should not be seen as the private preserve of experts. The experts may use their skills to develop and maintain the detail but ringers at large should understand the broad principles and should feel they have a stake in them – a voice if they feel that change is needed.

Obviously I have my own thoughts about the direction in which we might move, some of which I have hinted at, but I hope I have managed to present a reasonably balanced view that will enable you to find out more and form your own views.

   John Harrison 2016 (Cartoon by Yvonne Hall)

See the current Decisions . Article first published in The Ringing World  in 2016  


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