Leadership and Governance

ASCL position statements

These position statements are agreed via our Leadership and Governance Committee and cover:
  • teacher and leader quality, standards, education and qualifications
  • governance (including system governance)
  • inspection
  • performance measures

What is the context?
Ofsted resumed all types of routine inspections in September 2021, after they were suspended in March 2020 during the first school closures. 

ASCL’s position in autumn 2021 was that requests for deferrals should be granted automatically, except where there is a safeguarding concern or breakdown in leadership and management. In response, Ofsted has centralised its deferral decisions to ensure consistency, amended its deferral policy, and, since January 2021, approved a vast majority of Covid-related deferral requests.

ASCL position: Many schools and colleges continue to undergo significant disruption in spring 2022 as a result of Covid, with high levels of staff and pupil absence. ASCL does not believe that inspections of schools and colleges in such circumstances can lead to an accurate and fair judgement. We therefore call for any request for deferral from schools or colleges in this situation in spring term 2022 to be granted, unless the inspection has been triggered by safeguarding concerns, with no detriment to the school or college in future inspections.

Why are we saying this?
ASCL is not calling for a complete suspension of Ofsted inspections this term. We recognise that the impact of the pandemic has been variable across schools and colleges, and that some schools (including those seeking to validate improvement) would welcome an inspection, as many have done.

This is why we think it’s more helpful for any school or college to be able to defer its inspection, without the normal deferral policy applying. Where there are serious safeguarding concerns or concerns about a breakdown in leadership and management, ASCL supports the continuation of ‘no formal designation’ inspections.

This would mean that any school or college which does not feel an inspection this term would be fair or valid would be able to defer its inspection, without detriment in the future. Equally, schools and colleges which feel less affected by the pandemic, or which feel they have made significant improvements since their last inspection which they would like to be recognised, could choose not to defer an inspection.

In ASCL’s Blueprint for a Fairer Education System, we advocate a review of school and college accountability, including the appropriateness of current accountability measures and the role these play in inspection. This must be a considered process, undertaken in consultation with schools and colleges.
 

What is the context? 
Pupils are coded ‘X’ in attendance data if they have symptoms of Covid-19, but have not had this confirmed by a test. Once a pupil tests positive, they are coded under ‘I’ for illness. 

If a pupil is unable to attend school or college because one or both of their parents are self-isolating, they are coded ‘Y’ for inability to attend due to exceptional circumstances.

Covid-related absences are therefore likely to impact significantly on schools’ and colleges’ published attendance figures for the 2021-2022 school year. This will vary between schools and colleges depending on how hard their communities have been hit by Covid, through no fault of their own. 

ASCL position: ASCL believes that attendance figures for the 2021-22 academic year should not be published, or used as a measure to hold schools and colleges to account.

Attendance data should continue to be shared with the Department for Education, but only to continue to give a national picture on the impact of the pandemic on staff and pupil absence rates, to help inform other policy decisions and interventions.

Why are we saying this?
Because of the decisions made on how to code Covid-related absence, some schools’ and colleges’ data will not present an accurate reflection of their efforts to keep students learning this year.

National attendance data is helpful to inform policy decisions.
 

What is the context?
The government has confirmed that performance data will be used and published in the following ways, if KS2, KS4 and KS5 assessments go ahead as planned in summer 2022:

  • KS2 data will be made available to schools and trusts through ASP; will be shared across the DfE and will be available for use by Ofsted on the IDSR. It will not be published more widely.
  • KS4 and KS5 data will be made available to schools, colleges and trusts through ASP; will be shared across the DfE; will be available for use by Ofsted through the IDSR; and will be made publicly available on the Compare Schools and Colleges website.
The technical detail of how performance measures will be calculated is still to be confirmed.

ASCL position: ASCL believes that, given the differential impact of the pandemic on schools and colleges, it is inappropriate and unnecessary to publish any performance data from KS2, KS4 and KS5 national assessments for 2021-2022.

ASCL believes that this data should not be used for any accountability purposes, including on ASP or IDSR, as it is not reliable, valid or necessary.

ASCL believes that school or college-level performance data should not be published on the Compare Schools and Colleges website.

If national assessments go ahead, ASCL believes that school and college-level outcomes should be shared securely with schools, colleges and trusts, in order to help target support and intervention.

Why are we saying this?
Schools and colleges have not been affected equally by the pandemic. It is therefore inappropriate and unnecessary to hold schools accountable for 2021-2022 performance data.

Furthermore, both pupil and staff absence rates have been significant throughout 2021-2022, and have been variable across schools and colleges. This is likely to affect their school- or college-level performance measures, as the DfE’s own research suggests that remote teaching is not as effective as teaching in the classroom.

The government has also said that early entry data from summer 2021 and 2020 exam series will not be used in published performance tables. This may disadvantage schools that use early entry as part of a principled curriculum model.

If this data is made available across the system, it may impact inspection outcomes and affect other decisions such as conditions of funding for DfE initiatives and academy order notices.

If this data was made publicly available, it may be to the detriment of some schools and colleges’ reputations, and may be misinterpreted. 
 

What is the context?
Ofsted resumed all types of routine inspections in September 2021, after they were suspended in March 2020 during the first school closures. Around 500 inspections took place between September 2021 and October half-term.

During the same period, Covid-19 rates rose in schools leading to significant – but variable – absence rates among pupils and staff across the country. Over 200,000 pupils in England were absent from school in the fortnight before October half-term.

ASCL position: Many schools and colleges continue to undergo significant disruption in autumn 2021 as a 
result of Covid, with high levels of staff and pupil absence. ASCL does not believe that inspections of schools and colleges in such circumstances can lead to an accurate and fair judgement. We therefore call for any request for deferral from schools or colleges in this situation in autumn term 2021 to be granted, unless the inspection has been triggered by safeguarding concerns, with no detriment to the school or college in future inspections. 

Why are we saying this?
ASCL is not yet calling for a complete suspension of Ofsted inspections this term. We recognise that the impact of the pandemic has been variable across schools and colleges, and that some schools (including those seeking to validate improvement) would welcome an inspection.

This is why we think it’s more helpful for any school or college to be able to defer their inspection, without the normal deferral policy applying. Where there are serious safeguarding concerns or concerns about a breakdown in leadership and management, ASCL supports the continuation of ‘no formal designation’ inspections.

This would mean that any school or college which does not feel an inspection this term would be fair or valid would be able to defer their inspection, without detriment in the future. Equally, schools and colleges which feel less affected by the pandemic, or which feel they have made significant improvements since their last inspection which they would like to be recognised, could choose not to defer an inspection.

In ASCL’s Blueprint for a Fairer School System, we advocate a review of school and college accountability, including the appropriateness of current accountability measures and the role these play in inspection. This must be a considered process, undertaken in consultation with schools and colleges. 

What is the context?
On 19 July 2021 the government published an update on the way school and college accountability will operate for the 2021/22 academic year.

At Key Stage 2, performance tables will not be published. However, at Key Stages 4 and 5, results from qualifications achieved in 2021/22 will be published in school and college performance tables, using the normal suite of accountability measures.

ASCL position: ASCL welcomes the decision not to publish Key Stage 2 performance tables for 2021/22, but strongly believes that the same principle should be applied at Key Stages 4 and 5.

The government should therefore also commit to the suspension of performance data at Key Stage 4 and 5 for this academic year to avoid generating unhelpful and meaningless comparisons during this unprecedented time of ongoing educational disruption.

ASCL also invites the government to work with us on a future accountability system which is more proportionate and gives families a greater and more meaningful range of information about the performance of schools and colleges.

Why are we saying this? 
It is clear the pandemic has affected education settings in different ways, and continues to do so. Any attempt to compare the performance of one school or college against another in 2021/22 makes no sense in the context of 18 months of disruption, and is also potentially damaging to individual schools, colleges and communities which have suffered the greatest impact. 

Performance tables must therefore  be suspended this academic year. In the longer term, ASCL’s Blueprint for a Fairer Education System calls for a broader and fairer set of performance measures.

 

What is the context? 
In May 2021, following the cancellation of statutory primary assessments in 2020 and 2021 as a result of the pandemic, primary schools were told to expect the resumption of a full suite of primary assessments from September 2021. 

ASCL position: primary schools must be able to focus relentlessly in the next academic year on education recovery. Statutory assessments have a role to play in helping schools, trusts and the government to understand the impact of the pandemic on children’s learning, and to provide appropriate targeted support. But these assessments must be used in a way which focuses purely on this diagnostic role, rather than being used for accountability purposes. 

In addition, the continued disruption to education across the country, and the variable nature of this disruption, makes any comparison of data between schools unreliable and unhelpful. 

The government must therefore commit to the continued suspension of performance tables in 2021/22. Ofsted must confirm that the results of statutory assessments will not be used as part of the inspection process next year. And school and college leaders should be clear that they will not use data from statutory assessments for any internal performance management purposes next year. 

ASCL will continue to work with the DfE and Ofsted to explore ways in which the impact of the pandemic can be sensibly evaluated.  

Why are we saying this? 
We know that the use of statutory assessments in accountability inevitably has a distorting effect, encouraging an over-focus on those elements of the curriculum that will be tested, to the detriment of other aspects of the curriculum and to children’s broader experience at school. It is essential, this year more than ever, that schools are able to respond effectively to children’s needs, and to balance the teaching of those aspects of learning tested through statutory assessments with a broader focus on children’s education and wellbeing. 

We also know that the pandemic has affected different children and schools in different ways. Some children will have been able to engage in remote learning during the periods of school closures more effectively than others. Some will have experienced personal loss or trauma, while others may have emerged relatively unscathed. Any attempt to compare the performance of one school against another next year will therefore be at best meaningless, and at worst actively counterproductive, given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on more disadvantaged communities. 

The results of statutory assessments next year must, therefore, only be used diagnostically to understand the individual and collective impact of the pandemic on children, and to provide appropriate targeted support.
 

What is the context? The DfE published their Early Career Framework (ECF) in January 2019. The framework underpins an entitlement to a fully funded two-year package of structured training and support for early career teachers.

The DfE has previously committed to the following for the national rollout in Autumn 2021:

  • funding and guaranteeing 5% off-timetable in the second year of teaching for all early career teachers 
  • early career teachers continuing to have a 10% timetable reduction in their first year of induction
  • creating high quality, freely available ECF curricula and training materials
  • establishing full ECF training programmes
  • funding time for mentors to support early career teachers
  • fully funding mentor training

ASCL’s position: ASCL supports the intention behind the new statutory induction arrangements, and believes that additional, quality, support for Early Career Teachers is crucial, not only for their own personal development but, to help ensure that they are retained in the profession.
 
We believe that the new Early Career Framework offers a good level of support for Early Career Teachers.
 
However, in order for the benefits to be realised, we remain of the view that the role of the mentors is fundamental to the success of the programme and that therefore the time required for their training, time off timetable and associated back fill costs must be fully funded, regardless of the delivery route.

Why are we saying it? Whilst we are supportive of the intention behind the new statutory arrangements, the commitments made during the development of the Early Career Framework around fully funding all mentors’ time and training must be provided. It cannot be the case that some schools incur additional costs dependent on the delivery route, particularly if this is not of their choosing, when other schools receive full funding.
 

What is the context? Covid-19 has had an impact on the pupils in the current Year 10 and Year 12 due to take qualifications next year. Whilst it is universally accepted that all forms of accountability should be suspended in 2020, switching accountability back on in 2021 would be unhelpful and encourage false comparisons with other years.

ASCL position: ASCL believes that performance tables should continue to be suspended in 2021. Performance measures will not be comparable with other years for a wide range of reasons, including potentially reduced options and the exclusion of results from 2020. Data produced for schools to use internally, such as ASP, would be useful for information purposes so that schools can understand the impact of Covid-19. Even so, some measures will need to be adapted to have any meaning.

ASCL therefore calls on the DfE to announce this suspension without further delay so that schools can concentrate on creating the best experience for pupils and support their wellbeing from September.

Why are we saying it? Schools need to be free from the concerns of accountability as they work to reintegrate pupils during the year but would benefit from comparative information to use internally so they can assess the impact of the virus.
 

What is the context? Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the greatest challenges any of us has ever faced. The situation has been fast-moving, unpredictable, and extremely high stakes. Both government and school and college leaders have had to make decisions at speed, and based on incomplete and shifting evidence. 

While we recognise that the Department for Education has made attempts to engage with ASCL and other stakeholders during this period, we are concerned that this engagement has too often felt rushed, piecemeal and tokenistic.

School and college leaders are also increasingly angry and frustrated that announcements with major implications for schools and colleges are briefed to the media before being communicated to the profession. This leaves leaders in an extremely difficult position, with parents and communities wanting to know how schools and colleges plan to respond to an announcement of which they have had no prior warning. 

ASCL position:
ASCL urges the government to: 

  1. liaise properly with key stakeholders about any major policies and proposals, initiating genuine discussions around different options rather than simply seeking last-minute comments on the government’s preferred approach; and
  2. communicate their plans to school and college leaders in a timely manner, in advance of briefing the media. 

Why are we saying this? We believe that government will make better decisions if it consults properly with the people who understand deeply what the implications of those decisions will be, and who will be responsible for implementing them. We also believe that school and college leaders will be better able to carry out those plans, and to reassure their communities about them, if they have been both involved in their creation and informed in a timely manner about their communication. 

 

What is the context? Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced in a speech in April 2019 that a Labour government would scrap the current primary national curriculum assessments, commonly known as SATs, including those taken at the end of Key Stage 2. 

Instead, Labour plans to bring forward proposals for a new system that would separate the assessment of schools from the assessment of children, understand the learning needs of each child, and encourage a broad curriculum aimed at a rounded education.

ASCL position: ASCL believes that high stakes test-based accountability has impacted negatively on primary education and requires review.

Assessments should inform planning in order to prepare children more effectively for the next phase of their education.   

Why are we saying it? The government’s recent steps to remove the most toxic examples of high-stakes accountability – the floor and coasting standards – are welcome. However, ASCL believe the government should review the negative effects of primary testing on children. These assessments should, we believe, from part of a more rounded set of indicators of school performance and effectiveness. 

Performance data should be used more intelligently to prepare all children for each step of their educational journey, supporting schools in attaining the very best outcomes for young people. 
 

What is the context? Governments implement performance measures in order to incentivise behaviours in schools that they believe are desirable. However, as schools and their leaders are held to account largely by those measures, including through publication in performance tables, perverse incentives and behaviours inevitably result from an over-focus on a narrow set of measures.  

ASCL position: ASCL believes that any data presented on a school’s performance should include a rounded set of indicators and, furthermore, that no single headline measure should dominate.

Why are we saying it? The government has taken steps recently to remove the most toxic examples of high-stakes accountability – the floor and coasting measures. This welcome development needs to be further built upon to lead to performance data being presented and used in a more intelligent, nuanced and comprehensible way. 

What is the context? Governments change performance measures in order to incentivise behaviours in schools that they believe are desirable. But in all cases, as schools and their leaders are held to account largely by those measures, including through publication in performance tables, other perverse incentives and behaviours emerge. The problem is that a focus on any single headline measure will inevitably undermine that measure, a phenomenon enshrined in Goodhart’s Law: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases tobe a good measure."

ASCL’s vision document  Leading the Way: A Blueprint for a Self-Improving System outlined this problem and called for a broad set of external measures, alongside locally determined metrics which the school or group of schools believe give additional information about the context in which the school is working. This position was reinforced during discussion at Council in June 2019.

ASCL’s position: ASCL does not believe that schools can be effectively judged by any single measure; a more rounded set of indicators would give a clearer and more helpful picture of a school.

Further, the way the current single headline measure is currently presented is oversimplified and misleading.

Why are we saying it? The government has taken steps recently to remove the most toxic examples of high-stakes accountability – floor and coasting standards. This is welcome, but needs to lead to performance data being used more intelligently. For example, the public presentation of Progress 8 is accompanied by coarse gradings based on scores and, incorrectly, confidence intervals. These gradings can be highly misleading and difficult for the public to grasp.

What is the context? Currently, mainstream schools judged outstanding by Ofsted are exempt from routine inspection. HMCI Amanda Spielman has publicly stated that Ofsted wishes the DfE to remove this exemption.

ASCL position: The exemption from inspection for mainstream outstanding schools should be removed. Ofsted should apply the same approach to the conversion from section 8 to section 5 inspection that is used for inspection of good schools.

Why are we saying it? Given the changes to Ofsted’s inspection framework from 2019, it is right that all schools are judged according to the new criteria and approach, as this will provide assurance to parents and stakeholders. Furthermore, ending the outstanding exemption will provide assurance about safeguarding practices and allow inspectors to get greater insight into best practice, enabling this to be shared across the system.

Ofsted has recently introduced a more nuanced approach to the conversion of section 8 to section 5 inspections, which has helped to reduce the ‘cliff edge’ nature of inspections. If the exemption for outstanding schools is ended, these schools should be afforded the same nuanced approach as good schools. This will improve fairness and consistency in the inspection system and help to ensure inspection is supportive of all schools.