Happy New Year and welcome back to what will no doubt be an interesting few months. We all know that the period leading up to 7 May will be dominated by headlines of campaign claims and promises by politicians of all parties. It is equally evident that the outcome of this election is wholly unpredictable.
For school and college leaders the priority amongst all of this uncertainty remains the day job, to implement the current reforms in ways which are in the best interests of students, according to the vision that they have shaped for their organisations. Those visions will still apply after the election, whatever the outcome and whoever is in power.
This is why ASCL has been working so hard to articulate its own vision for our education system in the shape of our blueprint for a self-improving system. The extensive consultation process has been illuminating and incredibly helpful. Feedback from a huge range of sources within and beyond our membership has endorsed the direction of travel we have set out and has usefully aired a range of challenges.
Our vision differs in one important respect from that traditionally presented by membership organisations in the run up to elections. Rather than calling on an incoming government to adopt a range of new policies, we are calling on it to step back and empower our profession to lead the next phase of improvement. We want the government to create the conditions for a self-improving system and to ensure that necessary checks and balances are in place.
For that to happen we are only too aware that the profession needs to step up and demonstrate a level of ambition and that goes well beyond the government’s ambition. This is a real challenge. As the first choice professional association for the leaders of our schools and colleges it will be incumbent upon us to build further on the training, consultancy and support we provide each year to many thousands of leaders, assisting them to carry out their wide ranging roles, to share best practice and continually raise aspirations.
As we get ready to share our blueprint with politicians and discuss it with the incoming government we have a number of hopes and wishes. Foremost we want far reaching culture change in the way education reform is planned and implemented.
Firstly, we want all policies to be informed by robust and reliable evidence. There have been numerous calls for some kind of independent body – a centre for educational evidence or similar – which has the capability to muster such evidence and test proposed reforms against it. We support that idea. As we help to shape it we must focus sharply on the desired outcomes for students. In achieving this we need to reopen the space for professional dialogue about teaching and learning, and the aims and purposes of the education our young people need.
Secondly, we need to develop a culture where politicians’ commitment to harness the expertise of those who lead and work within our system is matched by an equally strong commitment from the whole of the profession to take responsibility not only for their schools and colleges but for creating the world class education system to which we all aspire.
Thirdly, we seek a cross party commitment to a long term vision underpinning the development of our education system – protecting it from short term political whim and point scoring.
Finally, we want a recognition that every individual working within our education system is professionally accountable for the quality of their own work. This means that teachers and school leaders are agents of their own accountability working together to own and drive further the highest aspirations for our schools and colleges. We want the profession to own and lead professional development and to set our professional standards. Coupled with the level of ambition to which we commit, that is anything but a soft option.
To quote our president’s theme for this year, which is the driving force behind our blueprint, it is time for our profession to be ‘trusted to transform’ our education system.
During the next four months we will undoubtedly hear lots of specific policy commitments. For ASCL the culture underpinning each of these will matter far more than the minutiae of the policies.
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