Room for manoeuvre…

03 July 2015

Leader L86_GenSecMany voices in the education world have called for a ‘period of stability’ now that a new government is in place. But that does not mean a let-up in meeting the significant challenges facing us, says Brian Lightman.

After months of speculation and uncertainty, the wait is over. More quickly and decisively than anyone expected, we have a new government.
Reaction to the result among ASCL’s membership reflected the broad church that we represent. Whatever your view, one thing is certain: the Conservative manifesto tells us clearly the direction of travel for education for the next five years.

There will be policies and opportunities we welcome and others that concern us. As always, we will try to approach those concerns with constructive and realistic solutions while grasping the opportunities to make our very good system great. We have a start in the re-appointment of a ministerial team that is almost identical to the pre-election one.

But it is worth reflecting on what a ‘period of stability’ means in reality. When the Secretary of State Nicky Morgan phoned me on her reappointment, she expressed her intention to leave successful schools to continue the good work that they are doing. Few of our members would disagree with that. Her efforts, she told me, would be focused on those schools that were not yet good enough.

She certainly had no intention of introducing new initiatives when there is so much to finish. Rather her mandate is to complete the reforms started before the election.

Status quo
So when we talk of a period of stability that does not mean a period of inactivity. The direction of policy is clear but our job, as always, is to make those policies work and to implement them in the best interests of young people. Stability certainly does not mean the status quo without any room for manoeuvre.

There are significant challenges to address, such as funding, teacher supply, school place planning and workload… not to mention the future of inspection. This is clearly recognised and, along with ASCL’s elected officers and senior staff, I am fully engaged in working with the ministerial team and their officials to develop workable solutions to these very difficult problems.

What about schools and colleges themselves? We have written extensively about the blueprint for a self-improving system, which has attracted much interest and support across the political spectrum and, specifically, from the Secretary of State.

More and more ASCL members are working in partnership with other schools by forming multi-academy trusts – that have grown exponentially in number – or by forming teaching school alliances or other kinds of partnership.

Leadership development
ASCL is developing a proposal for a Foundation for Leadership in Education – working with NAHT, the National Governors’ Association and other partners, including the Teaching Schools Council (TSC) and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) – that will put the profession at the front of leadership development.

But the most powerful aspect of the self-improving system lies in the actions for school and college leaders. A period of stability certainly does not mean that we want our schools and colleges to stand still; on the contrary, it provides ASCL members with the opportunity to step forward as leaders and shape the future of the education we provide.
The end of an academic year and the beginning of a new one is an ideal time to take stock and reflect on where we want to go over the next 12 months. I fervently hope that in a year’s time fewer schools and colleges will tell me that they feel constrained by external pressures from putting in place the vision for their students but will, instead, have greater confidence to do just that.

As we move into the next stage of implementing our vision, perhaps you and your teams would like to reflect on some of the following aspects of your role:

Professional learning

  • To what extent are you systematically engaged in succession planning for the next generation of middle and senior leaders?

  • To what extent are the professional learning programmes aligned to your educational vision rather than a response to government-led reforms?

  • To what extent do your staff have opportunities to engage with research findings and conduct small-scale projects themselves?

  • How high a priority is protecting continuing professional development (CPD) budgets? Can you afford not to protect them? What alternative forms of CPD are more cost-effective than sending people on day courses?

Curriculum, pedagogy and assessment

  • Have you created the time to go back to first principles with your curriculum and plan holistically, not as a reaction to government edict but as the key to implementing your educational vision for the school?

  • How are you and your staff developing a culture that enables them to test and develop models of teaching, which are enabled and accelerated by increasingly pervasive digital tools and resources?

  • How are you building a culture of curriculum design and development across the school enabling middle leaders to work with one another and across schools to develop subject curricula?

  • Are staff and students talking to one another about the world that students will enter, what they may need to be equipped for that and how that may influence what happens in the classrooms?

Accountability

  • What steps do you need to take to be agents of your own accountability, holding yourselves rigorously and robustly to account in ways that will enable the role of Ofsted to be one of simply validating your processes and therefore endorsing your conclusions?

  • Who will be involved in such processes both within and outside the boundaries of your own institution?

  • How are teachers being freed from uncertainty and doubt about inspection and protected from the myths that surround it?

  • What steps are being taken to ensure that governors understand accountability measures and have the capacity to both challenge you and tell the school’s story?

System leadership

  • To what extent are you and any of your staff involved in system leadership?

  • Are you sharing responsibility with other institutions for the young people in your area or for the quality of education provided within it?

  • Are you taking advantage of opportunities through links with other institutions to share best practice with others, bringing mutual benefits to all involved?

And finally
Have you personally become involved in any system leadership activities? One way of doing this is to be elected on to ASCL’s National Council – a body of committed leaders from all kinds of institutions throughout the UK who, by shaping ASCL policy, are helping to drive our education system to new heights. No government can achieve that without us.