A clear view

17 March 2016

blueprint.jpgThe vision for a self-improving system has made great strides in the last 12 months but there is much more still to do, as ASCL President Allan Foulds explains.

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

The blueprint is grounded in evidence, 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.

Almost a year after the publication of our blueprint, it is timely to review how far the education system has moved in this direction. We have led the way in developing the vision – now we must make it real. This will involve:

  • engaging a wide range of people and organisations – including government – in doing things differently

  • enabling the profession to play an active leadership role in taking forward the self-improving system

  • enriching the lives of children and young people – the next generation of citizens in an increasingly global society

Michael Fullan, a worldwide authority on educational reform, reminds us of the drivers we need to make vision into reality: focusing direction, building collaboration, deepening learning and securing accountability. At the core of making the blueprint real is capacity-building and coherence.

Fullan tells us that coherence is not a structure; it is not alignment; it is not strategy. “Coherence pertains to people individually and collectively. To cut to the chase, coherence consists of the shared depth of understanding about the purpose and nature of the work. Coherence, then, is what is in the minds and actions of people individually and especially collectively.”

So where are we in terms of our understanding?

Professional development and learning
A team from Durham University, research body The Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) and the UCL Institute of Education have carried out a review of research evidence into what constitutes effective continuing professional development (CPD) and learning, using a variety of digital academic resources.

Published by the Teacher Development Trust (TDT), the review, called Developing Great Teaching, provides a rigorous update and overview of the lessons that can be taken from international reviews into effective professional development. The key finding was that professional development opportunities that are carefully designed and have a strong focus on pupil outcomes have a significant impact on student achievement.

Building on this important review, ASCL, working with the TDT and CUREE, has published guidance on leadership of professional learning to enable school and college leaders to use the research to review continuous professional development and learning (CPDL) programmes and to develop and design a comprehensive and evidence-based CPDL curriculum.

Teacher supply
Teacher supply, recruitment and deployment are becoming a critical threat to the self-improving system. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has undertaken an analysis of teachers joining and leaving the profession. The report points out that although teacher numbers have been growing steadily, we will need more teachers in the future and the challenges are greater than first appeared.

ASCL is taking a lead on developing solutions to the crucial issues of teacher recruitment, supply and retention. We hosted a high-profile national seminar to develop profession-led solutions. We have also published our ten-point plan and we are working to advise government on the proposals for a national teaching service.

Curriculum, assessment and qualifications
Last year at our annual conference, the Secretary of State made it clear that there is no political appetite for an independent commission for curriculum review. Instead, the government wants the EBacc subjects (English, maths, the sciences, geography or history, a language) for most students. ASCL will continue to make the case that an independent commission is both necessary and desirable.

We have submitted a robust response to the EBacc consultation that argues strongly that a school’s curriculum should be determined by school leaders and governors. All schools need a challenging curriculum if all of our students are to be able to compete globally. We need a curriculum that provides a firm foundation for all students, whatever their backgrounds, enabling them to succeed not just in modern Britain but in the modern world.

And this curriculum needs to be broad, balanced and motivational. We are particularly concerned that music and drama could be squeezed out of school timetables and become the ‘preserve of the elite’ as a result of the government’s plans. We are concerned that the EBacc will lead to a decline in the number of students taking these subjects and that some subjects will become unsustainable.

Music and drama are particularly vulnerable because their uptake is already lower than many other courses. And these subjects are important for young people and for the economy. Creative industries alone are worth in the region of £80 billion a year to the UK and account for approximately 1.7 million jobs.

We also recommended in our response to the consultation that religious education should be one of the humanities options. Learning about religions encourages tolerance and mutual respect and this is highly relevant in today’s society.

ASCL has published the first in a series of guidance papers on leadership of formative assessment, focusing on progression and assessment in history. The guidance has been tested with middle and senior leaders and at researchED, the education charity. We are now seeking to work with The Schools, Students and Teachers Network (SSAT) and NFER to develop a suite of subject-specific, formative assessment guidance.

The scale of curriculum, assessment and qualification reform is significant. The system needs strong leadership at all levels to manage the changes and ensure a strong, aspirational curriculum for all children and young people.

It needs assessment systems that improve outcomes and demonstrate progress in learning and it needs qualifications that enable our young people to compete in an increasingly global economy. To this end, we will be developing a series of professional development opportunities designed to support you in the important task of taking control of curriculum, assessment and qualifications reform.

ASCL undertook a pre- and post-General Election campaign to draw attention to the very significant funding issues for schools and colleges. The Conservative Party Manifesto 2015 made a commitment to making school funding fairer.

Education Select Committee chair Neil Carmichael MP wrote to the Secretary of State urging proposals ‘at an early date’. A total of 111 MPs signed a letter to the Prime Minister calling on the government to introduce a new national fair funding formula for schools. The government announced plans to develop a national fair funding formula in the autumn 2015 spending review.

ASCL has supported schools to be ready for the post-spending review scenario with a series of highly successful and over-subscribed seminars on ‘weathering the financial storm’. We have also published guidance on strategic finance – design principles and financial reporting.

We will continue to keep up the pressure on government to deliver sufficient, sustainable and equitable school and college funding. The future prosperity of our nation depends on it.

The blueprint encapsulates a mindset. Making it real will involve continuous engagement, purposeful enabling and collective action – by the many, not the few – to achieve our aim of enriching the lives of children and young people.

Allan Foulds is ASCL President 2015/1

Further reading

Leading the Way: Blueprint for a Self-Improving System: www.ascl.org.uk/blueprint

Developing Great Teaching (lessons from the international reviews): http://tdtrust.org/about/dgt

ASCL Guidance: Leadership of Professional Development and Learning: www.ascl.org.uk/stratimprove    

ASCL ten-point plan to tackle recruitment crisis: www.ascl.org.uk/10point

Response to the EBacc consultation: www.ascl.org.uk/ebaccconsult

ASCL Guidance: Progression and Assessment in History: www.ascl.org.uk/history

ASCL Guidance: Strategic Finance: design principles and financial reporting: www.ascl.org.uk/stratfinanceplan