Last week I had the honour of launching my presidential year in the Houses of Parliament with the unveiling of the joint ASCL, NGA and Browne Jacobson guidance on forming or joining a group of schools. It was a wonderful opportunity to put the presidential theme of Engage – Enable - Enrich into the context of system development and the challenges and opportunity that may lie ahead.
The theme for this year describes a pathway and a process. It is underpinned by a clear vision with aim and purpose, linked to our Blueprint for a self-improving system. It offers a way of living ASCL’s values.
Let me explain further, beginning with Engage.
School and college leaders are, by nature, constant and restless communicators. Talking is a fundamental part of our job, but it doesn’t take long to work out just how important the ability to listen is. When we engage, listening is a prerequisite for success. Henry Thoreau put it really well: “It takes two to speak the truth. One to speak and the other to hear.”
Healthy and meaningful engagement forges and requires good relationships. The scope of ASCL’s engagement is very broad indeed. We engage with ministers, advisers, senior civil servants, non-ministerial bodies, other unions and professional bodies and commercial organisations. We have a wide range of strategic partners too and always try to position ourselves alongside key influencers. We will continue to strengthen the impact of these excellent relationships and keep our vision in mind.
What we engage about are issues that are fundamental to improving education, and what motivates us in our professional life. This is rooted in a deep-seated moral purpose. For all of us it is about enriching young people’s lives, ensuring their location within, and contribution to, a successful country and society. There is more that will be enhanced as a corollary of this as we get it more and more right.
Moving on, what about Enable?
Enabling is first and foremost about being solutions-focused. It is about being constructive. Occasionally, this may be tinged with compromise, but to be well-positioned it has its eye on attaining a shared and preferred vision.
The best solutions recognise and adapt to context. Whatever the future for any school, college or group of schools a ‘one size fits all’ approach simply won’t cut it. We are in the midst of enormous and increasing diversity within our education system and our starting points and current position are crucial for all of us. This then informs the possibilities ahead. The guidance I mentioned above gives a clear sense of the possible merits or otherwise of engaging in more formal partnership(s) as applicable to your situation. This feels to be exactly the right approach.
The title of the guidance: Joining or Forming a Group of Schools: staying in control of your school’s destiny, includes a wonderful central tenet. While staying in control is undeniably attractive, it should not be confused with a static approach. We should be restlessly exploring possibilities while retaining the sense of control.
I hope you’ll agree there is much to play for. All of us have an imperative to enable and indeed liberate change for good and right reasons.
That brings me to Enrich, which may, ironically, have been the best starting point.
What is it all for? ASCL is clear about its central purpose. We are inspired by a vision of high quality education for all young people. All of our actions and energy have this sense of deep moral purpose at their heart.
Whether government, parents or the profession as a whole, it almost goes without saying that we all want a world class and enriching education for our young people. Where leaders truly engage in this, whatever the apparent or real constraints, it fulfils them and this in itself is deeply enriching. This is an entirely virtuous circle. When we enrich the education leaders are responsible for, we also enrich their experience of leadership.
I believe a profession-led response to the changing educational landscape genuinely has the power to ensure we do indeed remain in control of our own destiny. Two quotes in the spirit of doing so, with a slightly cautionary note around the first: “It is the long history of humankind, those who learned to collaborate and improvise the most effectively have prevailed.” (Charles Darwin.)
However, let’s step carefully. Securing a truly profession-led, self-improving system should not really be about survival of the fittest.
Helen Keller put it simply and well: “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”
The theme for the ASCL Annual Conference 2016 is “Engage, Enable, Enrich”, to book your place click here.