‘You can mandate adequacy; you can’t mandate greatness. It has to be unleashed.’ (Joel Klein). This quote characterises ASCL’s Blueprint for a Self-Improving System and it is applicable to everyone in education, regardless of sector.
While there are aspects of the proposals in Blueprint which are relevant only to maintained schools, the underlying educational philosophy - a desire to engender high standards of teacher professionalism, pedagogy, learning, and school management and governance - are as important to the independent sector as to the maintained sector.
There is both a moral and a practical imperative for the independent sector to become involved. We all aspire to make our education system as great as it can be and give the next generation of young people the best possible opportunity to become the rounded, well-educated and fulfilled adults our country needs.
So, here’s how both sectors can work together to deliver Blueprint:
Element one: Teacher professionalism
This is directly applicable to all educators. The aspirations in this section - of “excellence in a world-class education system”; “the moral imperative of teaching”; and “a strong sense of energy, collective purpose and professionalism” – should resonate with every independent school leader as exactly what we aspire to and work hard to achieve.
It is just as important to the independent sector as to the maintained sector that there is a large enough pool of highly professional teachers who undergo career-long Continuous Professional Development and Learning (CPDL).
To my mind, if the two sectors do not join forces, formally or informally, to promote this great need in our profession, it will be a golden opportunity missed and to the detriment of the whole system.
Some excellent independent and state school teaching partnerships have already grown up
This is a two-way street. The maintained sector needs to be prepared to act positively towards its independent colleagues, as well as vice versa. It behoves us all to work together to ensure that the proposed Royal College of Teaching and Foundation for Leadership in Education are inclusive and supported by both sectors.
Element two: Curriculum, assessment and qualifications
This is close to the hearts of all of us and here we have great common cause. We can all consider ourselves almost equally at the mercy of politicians at Key Stages 4 and 5 – or we can work together, using the example of the freedoms enjoyed and utilised by independent schools up to the end of Key Stage 3, to help further the new order envisaged in the Blueprint.
At Key Stages 1 to 3, many independent schools have relished their freedom not to use levels, and this is something we could share with our maintained school colleagues who are starting down this road.
We could and should work with the maintained sector to encourage the best-quality courses nationally – remembering that ‘quality’ and ‘quantity’ are not the same thing. The independent sector has taken the lead in challenging some dubious elements of the current qualification system, such as quality of marking, and strong backing and involvement from ASCL will strengthen the challenge.
Element Three: Funding and governance
Independent schools may not be able to identify with the financial aspects, but the vision for governance rings many bells. Indeed, I see a role for the independent sector in both participating and assisting in developing high-quality governance.
Element four: Accountability
This might not immediately appear to give a great deal of scope for direct independent sector involvement. However, underlying philosophies, such as “the highest form of accountability is the individual’s professional accountability” and governing boards developing measures of performance for strategic priorities, once again have a very familiar ring.
Both sectors have high accountability. Both put great store on CPDL. There is not only a basis for mutual understanding but surely potential for dialogue with government as well as within the profession.
For example, the Independent Schools Inspectorate may be separate but its peer review principle of rigorous inspection by practising professionals is one that we know many ASCL members favour.
So let’s make the most of the opportunity to work together to “develop a bold curricular vision” to ensure that all our young people grow up with the wide “range of important skills and qualities” essential for their future – and, as a result, for our future too.