Unlocking potential

14 September 2015

SOSSecretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan sets out her priorities for the next five years and says she is committed to working with ASCL members to achieve them.

As you return to the new school term, it’s natural for thoughts to turn to new priorities and the year ahead. But I hope that you will take a moment to reflect on how much you have achieved – both in the last academic year, and over the last five years.

The government has asked a lot from school and college leaders and you have risen to the challenge. You will have heard me say this before, but it bears repeating: we now have more than one million more children in schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ than in 2010. That’s one million more pupils’ education transformed.

So much of this is down to the hard work and commitment of thousands of teachers and school and college leaders up and down the country and you should feel hugely proud of everything you’re doing to give the next generation a better start in life. I know that the education system can only ever be as good as school and college leaders and teachers at the front line.

I also know that you share my ambition to go further and spread excellence everywhere and to every young person. And as I set out my priorities, as Secretary of State for Education, for the next five years, there is much for us to work on together.

These priorities include: a high-quality school place for every child; the best protection and opportunities for vulnerable children; tackling pockets of underachievement throughout the country; young people leaving school or college with skills that employers value, and with the character and resilience that will enable them to succeed in modern Britain.

All of which adds up to a world-class education system in which every young person can reach his or her potential, regardless of background, with higher standards and better opportunities for all. As the Prime Minister said on the steps of Downing Street, this will be a one nation government, committed to social justice and education sits squarely at the heart of that vision.

The key to achieving this – as ASCL’s Blueprint for a Self-Improving System so rightly acknowledges – is a confident profession driving improvement, supported where appropriate by government. I trust school and college leaders and teachers to do what is best for their pupils, as demonstrated by the freedoms that we’ve offered and that you have embraced so effectively and innovatively.

I’m fully supportive of your calls, in the Blueprint, for further autonomy, while also ensuring that Ministers remain accountable to parents. I also know many of you will also be looking for a period of stability. And I agree that we need to let the dust settle and allow our curriculum and qualifications reforms time to bed in so I am committed to stability in this area.

I want leaders to have the space to focus on leading and teachers to focus on teaching, free from unnecessary bureaucracy, so that we can do more to spread excellence and ensure that more children can succeed.

To this end, we have introduced a number of important new measures, starting with the Education and Adoption Bill*. This aims to tackle underperformance by identifying and improving coasting schools that have not been performing as well as they could for several years and need help to improve.

Those that show they can improve will be supported to do so, with support from the best schools and leaders. Where schools can’t improve, I believe it is right that they benefit from the expertise and leadership that good sponsors can provide. No young person should spend a single day of his or her education in a school that is ‘just good enough’ and so we must act without delay. This isn’t about sacking heads – as some have chosen to interpret this line – but it does mean that we will work with you to ensure that every school has excellent leadership.

We have deliberately chosen to make the definition of coasting focused on progress, not simply raw attainment, so that those heads who take on schools with challenging intakes aren’t penalised. The introduction of Progress 8 will go a long way to doing this – because I realise we must move away from ‘football manager syndrome’ when it comes to headteachers. Heads need to be given time to transform failing schools and not be constantly looking over their shoulder, so I will be working with Ofsted and take a hard look at our accountability framework to ensure we don’t deter talent from where it is needed most.

Another vital focus for us – that I know that ASCL shares – is boosting professional standards and development. As we know, this is crucial for raising the quality and status of the teaching profession, including school and college leaders. This is why I’m following, with great interest, the proposals put forward by ASCL, along with the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) and the National Governors Association (NGA), to establish a Foundation for Leadership in Education.

I have already committed to support the establishment of an independent College of Teaching to support teaching as a profession, and to encourage and support high-quality professional development for teachers. We will continue to make robust evidence available to teachers, helping schools and teachers to make more-informed decisions as evidence-based teaching becomes even more widespread over the course of this Parliament.

I hope this investment in the profession will pay huge dividends and I’m pleased to see, from recent figures published by my Department, that the number and quality of teachers is at an all-time high.

But I recognise that many of you have concerns about teacher recruitment and funding. And it’s true that recruitment is a challenge as the economy improves, but we are working to strengthen this and to encourage more talented people into the profession through a range of recruitment activities and incentives, including generous tax-free bursaries for shortage subjects such as maths and physics.

On the issue of funding, even with finances still tight, we are protecting the amount of money following children into school; so, as the number of pupils increases, so will the amount of money in our schools. We are also committed to making funding for schools fairer, which I know is a big priority for ASCL, as it is for me. This will mean that funding will be better matched to need, ending the unacceptable and irrational variations in per pupil funding.

Furthermore, we are determined that post-16 providers have the resources they need to ensure that young people in further education enjoy high-quality courses. That is why we ended the historic and unfair difference between post-16 provision and have moved to funding per student, rather than by qualification – ensuring funding for every full-time student to do a full timetable of courses – and why we have also increased the support for those who successfully study four or more A levels and large Technical Baccalaureate (TechBacc) programmes.

Nevertheless, we recognise the pressures that you face. Like other employers across the public sector, you are being asked to contribute more towards pensions and National Insurance to ensure the costs can be met in future. To help with this we deferred the increase to pension contributions by five months to give schools more time to prepare.

I won’t pretend that we don’t face challenges ahead. But there are also exciting opportunities. As Secretary of State, I have been appointed to set the strategic direction for the education system but I trust in you as leaders of your schools and colleges to drive further improvement across the system. We won’t always agree but, having already delivered so much together, I know that we are all committed to a better future for all young people, which has to be a good place to start and I look forward to working with you this new Parliament.

Find out more*
For further information on the Education and Adoption Bill see Katie Michelon’s article.