ASCL comment on schools white paper

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, comments on the Department for Education press release outlining the schools white paper being launched on Monday.
“While there are a number of promising and helpful measures outlined in the white paper, we cannot escape the feeling that overall it is mechanistic and lacking in ambition.

“Disappointingly, this white paper lacks any big ideas for the future of the education system. The nearest it gets is its targets for improved results in English and maths by 2030, but the plan of how to achieve these targets is vague, and there does not appear to be very much in the way of funding to help schools deliver them.

“The white paper is also landing at a time when schools and colleges continue to be buffeted by the impact of the pandemic, with extremely high absence rates. This is taking a toll on both staff and pupils. The government must do more to recognise and support schools and colleges with these challenges, before heaping yet more pressure on them.

Parent Pledge
“The Parent Pledge seems like a policy gimmick designed to grab headlines. In reality, any child who falls behind in English and maths will already receive timely and evidence-led support and this is already communicated to parents via existing channels such as parents’ evenings. 

“Schools already have robust assessment systems for tracking progress. 

“The danger of the Parent Pledge is that it will build an expectation of an entitlement to various forms of additional support on demand. This is not realistic as schools have limited resources and have to meet the needs of all their students. We fear that this will simply create tensions between parents and schools, rather than helping them to work together.

A fully trust-led system
We agree that the current school system in England is messy and confusing, and that this needs addressing.

“There are many successful multi-academy trusts doing excellent work, and there are many benefits of schools working together. We are not convinced, however, that collaboration can only be achieved through the model of multi-academy trusts. There are other forms of collaboration which can also work effectively. 

“We do not think that a deadline for all schools to be in or joining a multi-academy trust is helpful. That said, we are pleased that the government intends to allow local authorities to establish multi-academy trusts.

90% target for reading, writing and maths by 2030
“Improving English and maths outcomes is a laudable ambition, but there is little recognition of the wider societal factors which affect those outcomes, such as the fact that nearly a third of children in the UK live in poverty. It is hard to learn when you are hungry, cold, poorly clothed and live in inadequate housing. 

“Focusing so intensely on English and maths, important as those subjects are, is also a very narrow view of education. A truly ambitious white paper should have greater ambition for the whole curriculum. The current curriculum is crowded and lacks coherence between early years, primary and secondary education. Some of the government’s school performance measures have driven subjects such as Design and Technology and the creative arts to the margins. This white paper fails to grasp any of these issues.