A Blueprint for a Self-Improving System

Executive Summary

As the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), we believe that we can move our currently good education system to become a great one, which delivers quality and equality for all children and young people. Realising this vision will involve courage, imagination and collective action. Above all, it requires school and college leaders to step forward and grasp the leadership challenge, working collaboratively to build capacity and drive improvement.

Leading the way: A Blueprint for a Self-Improving System describes our vision from the vantage point of the year 2020. It is of a system that has moved away from central direction to ‘unleashing greatness’ in schools and colleges themselves.

The blueprint is grounded in academic evidence and research, and widespread consultation. It is divided into six elements and suggests steps aligned to each of these that will move us towards the vision.

Our vision for the year 2020

The following is a snapshot of what the future might look like, based on our blueprint:

1. Teacher professionalism
  • Teachers and leaders constantly challenge each other and themselves to develop their own practice and professional learning. It is common for teachers to have a professional learning ladder from initial teacher education through to masters and research programmes.
  • An independent College of Teaching, set up through a government endowment fund and led by a peer-elected board, sets teacher standards and has a key role in enhancing teachers’ professional learning.
  • Government has put in place a national supply model that ensures there are enough good teachers in each subject and region.
2. Curriculum, assessment and qualifications
  • An independent commission – including practitioners, parents, governors, employers and politicians – reviews the core curriculum every five years, giving the government one opportunity in a Parliament to make changes.
  • The core curriculum framework is only one part of a school’s curriculum. Schools build the rest around the core framework to help students develop deep and broad knowledge, and relevant qualities and skills.
  • Vocational qualifications have been reformed so that they are consistently high-quality and are now on a par with academic qualifications.
3. Funding and governance
  • A new national funding formula is in place that is sufficient, equitable and sustainable, ending the unfairness which puts some schools at risk of financial failure. It is weighted to students with the greatest need.
  • All schools have been required to enter or create formal partnerships with others in the form of multi-academy trusts and federations.
  • Governance is much stronger, with a clear separation between members of academy trusts and local school governing boards, and strong succession planning which means most chairs of federations and trusts serve a maximum of two terms.
4. Accountability
  • There is a slim, smart and stable public accountability framework with a small number of ambitious goals, including a nationally determined progress measure in place for at least five years – the term of government. Governments no longer use accountability measures to influence decisions about the curriculum, assessment and teaching.
  • A new model of inspection makes reliable and credible judgements and has the trust and respect of the profession. Schools and colleges no longer feel under pressure to conform to what they believe inspectors want to see.
  • Inspection focuses on outcomes rather than processes. A yearly review of each school considers a range of outcome measures that have been agreed by the profession. If these are secure, there is no need for an inspection visit.
  • The inspectorate has the power to inspect groups of schools in trusts and federations as well as individual institutions.
5. Scrutiny, intervention and support
  • Regional education commissioners, who report to Parliament rather than the DfE, oversee all schools in their area – including academies, free schools and those maintained by local authorities.
  • They have the power to intervene where schools are causing concern, in the form of issuing warning notices, removing a governing body or ordering a school to work in partnership with another school or trust.
  • Support to schools needing to improve is delivered by a range of providers but usually takes the form of school-to-school support delivered by multi-academy trusts, teaching school alliances, and national and local leaders of education.
6. Strategic planning
  • Regional education commissioners are responsible for commissioning and tendering for new schools when needed and assessing bids for new schools. Where new schools are needed, the case is made to the education commissioner.
  • The calculation of number of school places needed, and the duty to secure sufficient places, remains with local authorities. The duty to secure high-quality provision through the commissioning process sits with the education commissioner.
  • Employers and education providers work closely together to ensure young people have the right skills for the local and national labour market.
Achieving the vision outlined above is dependent on school and college leaders stepping forward. The corollary is the government stepping back. In the blueprint, the responsibilities of government are clearly defined. They focus on:
  • fair per pupil funding that is sufficient, sustainable and equitable, that includes weighting for disadvantage and enables educational organisations to focus on closing achievement gaps
  • a slim, smart and stable framework of standards in outcomes and public accountability
  • calculation of numbers of teachers needed in each sector and region, and the promotion of the status and value of teaching as a profession
  • a capital programme that ensures sufficiency and quality of educational provision and learning environments that are fit for the 21st Century
  • a role in monitoring the performance of the system and in identifying and helping to address potential strategic issues that could hamper future success

The blueprint is a re-imagining of education – a move away from prescription to a profession-led system that is evidence-informed, innovative and ethical. Leading the change will involve a new mindset – our education system is not comprised of a series of givens imposed by those outside the profession, to which we are required to respond and by which we are constrained. Rather our leadership must be active, passionate and driven by our collective dedication and effort. If we succeed, we will have created a world-class education system.

The Self-Improving System in England: a Review of Evidence and Thinking

Leading the Way: a Review of the Changing Nature of School Leadership