Issue 129 - 2023 Autumn term
The latest information from our colleagues across the nation.

ASCL UK - Autumn 2023

Excellence for all

In making my Leader magazine debut, I first want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Robert Wilson, who retired at the end of August. Robert is respected across the sector and his relationships were pivotal to ensuring ASCL Northern Ireland’s voice was heard at the highest level, not least in influencing policy throughout the pandemic. He has left ASCL Northern Ireland in an excellent position to take the next steps forward.
Second, I want to introduce myself. Hailing from County Down, I moved to the North East after school, studying at Newcastle and Durham universities. I initially taught music and progressed through various roles, ending up as director in a large 3–19 Northumberland academy. Eventually, the lure of home led me to pursue my passion for assessment with the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA), Northern Ireland’s awarding organisation. I spent eight years there, most recently with responsibility for standards and assessment development. 

I’ve now been Director of ASCL Northern Ireland for just over two months. In that time, I’ve met with and listened to members, supported members in challenging situations and initiated relationships with the key players in education in Northern Ireland. Being part of the ASCL Leadership Group means that Northern Ireland members’ voices are heard equally alongside the rest of the UK. We will learn a lot from colleagues across the jurisdictions and we will also bring much to the table. 

Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of working with some exceptional leaders, but I think I will always remember most keenly the influence of my first ‘boss’. Paula Williams was headteacher of Whitburn Church of England (CofE) Academy, South Tyneside, and she believed in ‘excellence for all’. She pursued this in all she did as a leader – a simple, inclusive and powerful challenge that became the motto of that school.
The theme of the ASCL Northern Ireland Conference this year is ‘Transformational Leadership’, and if ever there was a time when this was required, it is undoubtedly now. My aim in my role will be to pursue ‘excellence for all’ – as I speak for our members and act on behalf of children and young people. 

John Trueman
ASCL Northern Ireland Director

Just stop meddling

As political debates rage across the border about how to turn voters around, our children and young people must be thinking, “What’s all this got to do with me?” I would guess that once the electioneering starts in Wales, it will be no different. 

Our children are too important for political vanity projects that do nothing to address the core issues facing us today – issues of poverty, poor housing, weak attendance and an exam system built on punishing mistakes rather than acknowledging learning. We cannot sanction an education system that serves only those who have support structures and the wherewithal to attend schools or colleges. Surely any civilised society must value its weakest and most vulnerable? And the corollary to that is that the profession, in delivering for these young people, also must be valued. 

We hear of visions, values, a national mission and excellence from government circles. Fine words and unimpeachable sentiments are of little practical use where funding is slashed, and learners are voting with their feet and not attending school. In Wales, the percentage of persistent absence for secondary school learners is three times that of pre-pandemic figures. Nearly 36% of persistent non-attenders are eligible for free school meals. This is clearly a national crisis. The attainment gap is already widening, and we simply cannot afford to allow our most vulnerable to slip further away from realising their potential. 

Schools must be free, and have the resource, to deliver on the needs of their learners by offering exciting and engaging learning. Too often, leaders find themselves looking over their shoulders at the agents of accountability or at the impossible funding settlement that restricts choices. Short-term government announcements that barely scratch the surface of the problems faced are simply vacuous. 

As author and educationalist, Roy Blatchford, advises, “The successful future of our schools is one in which governments meddle less, and trust more.” 

Eithne Hughes
ASCL Cymru Director

Strong and bold leadership

It is my great honour and privilege to succeed Jim Thewliss as General Secretary of School Leaders Scotland (SLS). After more than 40 years of being a teacher, including 14 years as a headteacher, the challenge of taking on this role is both stimulating and exciting. I started my career in Mitcham, South London, where I taught modern languages and then in Aberfeldy in the heart of Scotland, Ontario, Dundee and in Dumbarton. Having been a member of SLS for more than 25 years and president of the association when the pandemic started, I come with a wealth of experience to the post and look forward to taking SLS forward successfully.

Jim left the association in robust good health: membership has doubled in ten years, and our finances are very healthy. Our professional learning programme has been resuscitated and our new National Officer, David Barnett, is continuing to support our members in the style to which they had been accustomed under his predecessor Neil Shaw. Our profile and influence in the political world, thanks to Jim’s efforts, have never been more significant; educationally, our opinion is actively sought, and no decisions are taken on education in Scotland without the government consulting SLS at the earliest stage, and throughout. Since I took over in September, SLS has been involved in two meetings with Cabinet Secretary Jenny Gilruth, and a third SLS meeting with her is planned for November. 

Scottish education is at a major crossroads. With the Muir, Hayward and Withers reports and the National Discussion on Education, we are facing a plethora of decisions on which future path to pursue for the benefit of all children and young people in Scotland, as well as for the staff who teach and support them. The process going forward needs focus, simplicity, courage and strong and bold leadership on the part of everyone involved in Scottish education.

Graham Hutton
General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland

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