Education matters to ASCL members - it should matter to politicians too

by Geoff Barton, ASCL General Secretary

Amid the chaotic, morale-sapping, unseemly political turbulence of these past few weeks, I’ve been spending time out in the real world. It’s been like parole.

So, whilst Westminster has been spinning downwards in humiliating turmoil, here at ASCL we’ve stayed well away. Instead, I’ve been pleased to be on the road with other members of the ASCL policy and member support team, plus our Presidential Trio, and – like some bunch of groovy rockers – we’ve been turning up in different UK venues as part of ASCL’s series of Autumn Leadership Conferences.

And there’s been something incredibly, genuinely grounding about it. Because whilst as delegates you come to these conferences to listen to us, we come to them to listen to you.

And what we have seen and heard is extraordinary leadership through times of unnerving adversity.

You’ve been describing – inevitably and rightly - the realities of the funding crisis, pay and conditions, the woeful state of teacher recruitment and retention, pupil behaviour, and the sense of a government who have little genuine interest in education.

And it would therefore be easy to head into a half-term break full of woe, a lament to the abysmal political leadership we’ve just witnessed.

 And – to be clear – I’ve never known morale so low, and in some cases so desperate, amongst some of our members, so this isn’t a plea for complacency.

But once again this week, our members exuded humanity, empathy and a relentless determination to do what’s needed for young people, with – frankly - rapidly diminishing resources.

You, like me, will have looked on with horror at these weeks of an unending Conservative Party psychodrama. Grimly fascinating, this has also felt like a complete abnegation of responsibility to the UK’s citizens and their needs. 

That’s what I see from them, the politicians. But it’s not what I see in you, genuine public servants in the school, trust and college sector.

You know that principled, ethical leadership matters. You know that having a diverse leadership team – Abraham Lincoln’s ‘team of rivals’ rather than a coterie of loyalists - will make your institution stronger. You know that saying no is harder than saying yes – and avoids subsequent humiliating climbdowns. 

You also know that authentic communication rather than repetitive soundbites is essential. You know that being visible in leadership – rather than retreating to the bunker of your office – shows a level of courage that is hard to argue against.

You know all this and so much more. And, like me, I suspect you will have looked on and felt appalled and embarrassed at what leadership at a national level currently looks like.

But all the more reason, therefore, to reaffirm our understanding of what genuine leadership means in its understated, non-grandstanding reality. All the more reason also to grab a much-needed break and to regroup with friends and family, in order to process the mayhem of what we have been witness to, but also to prepare yourself for a tough and turbulent winter ahead.

As a weekend beckons ahead of another extraordinary week in UK history, keep an eye out for ASCL and other organisations. We have three days or so to show that education matters, and to challenge our future Prime Minister to demonstrate that she or he feels the same.

We’ll do our best on that. 

Meanwhile, you do your best to grab some time off with family and friends. Education matters hugely. But so do you. 

And you therefore need to build in some recuperation time for the turbulent weeks and months ahead. This isn’t some self-indulgent luxury. It’s essential. Have a good break.

Geoff Barton is ASCL General Secretary.

Posted: 21/10/2022 14:40:35