2021 Spring Term 1

NEWS AND GUIDANCE

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News and guidance

ASCL Influence

ASCL Director of Policy Julie McCulloch on the challenges of engaging with an increasingly erratic government. Expand

Working on your behalf to influence government policy

ASCL Director of Policy Julie McCulloch on the challenges of engaging with an increasingly erratic government.

The last few weeks have been the most unedifying period in education policy I have ever had the misfortune to witness. We’ve seen the government threatening to take schools and local authorities to court for seeking to keep their communities safe. We’ve seen schools and colleges ‘invited’ to set up from scratch mass Covid testing programmes then, when they pointed out how challenging this was, simply told that it was now an ‘expectation’ and that they ‘will’ do it.

We watched the Prime Minister on the Sunday Politics show assure the public that schools were safe and would remain open, only to announce the following evening that they would close, with immediate effect, to all but a small group of children. Two days later, we listened open-mouthed as the Education Secretary used a speech to Parliament not to offer more support to schools and colleges with the huge challenges they were facing, but instead to incite parents to report them to Ofsted if they didn’t think they were doing a good enough job of remote learning.

Those of us not on the front line of dealing with all of this can only watch in awe those of you who are, and offer what support we can. The role of the ASCL Policy Team through this period – as always – has been to represent members’ views to government, and to work with them as constructively as we can. In the last edition of Leader, I set out our seven current policy priorities. Here’s what we’ve achieved so far in each of those areas.

1 Provide better public health support for leaders dealing with Covid cases
Thank you to all of you who’ve shared with us your experiences of the support – or otherwise – that you’ve been receiving on public health issues. We’ve fed all of these back – on the DfE helpline, on the constantly changing guidance, on the mass testing programme, and on concerns about the number of children and young people still eligible for places during the current lockdown – particularly in specialist and early years settings.

2 Don’t publish performance tables in 2021
We’ve been arguing for months that publishing performance tables in 2021 would be meaningless and counterproductive. We’re pleased that the government has finally agreed that performance tables in their usual form won’t be published this year. We are, however, concerned about how performance metrics may still be used by Ofsted and the DfE – particularly now we are in a second lockdown. We are in ongoing discussions about what metrics will be produced, and what caveats will be wrapped around them, to recognise the differing impact of Covid on schools and colleges.

3 Make the assessment of GCSE, A level and vocational qualifications as fair as possible 
As part of the DfE’s stakeholder advisory group on 2021 exams, we have been able to share members’ views directly with the Schools Minister and Interim Chief Regulator. Back in October, we put forward a range of proposals to ensure that all students could sit exams and that they were as fair as possible. These included the introduction of greater optionality, the development of a robust back-up centre-assessment process, and generosity in the grades students were awarded.

The situation has, of course, shifted significantly since then. The new lockdown led to a last-minute, buck-passing decision to allow individual schools and colleges to decide whether or not to hold vocational and technical exams in January, and the announcement that GCSEs and A levels would be cancelled.

We are now working extremely closely with the DfE, Ofqual and the exam boards to consider how all students, whatever qualification they are taking and however much their education has been disrupted, can be awarded a fair grade, which will enable them to progress to their next stage of education, training or employment.

4 Cancel SATs in 2021
We have been making it clear for some time that we believe that SATs should be cancelled in 2021. Schools have experienced such different degrees of disruption that any attempt to use these assessments to compare schools would be meaningless and misleading.

We are pleased that the government has finally come to the same conclusion, and announced that SATs will not go ahead this year. At the time of writing, we are in detailed discussions with the DfE about whether any national alternative to SATs will be proposed, and what this means for other primary assessments.

5 Be realistic about the remote learning that schools and colleges can provide
We continue to argue that schools and colleges can be trusted to provide high- quality remote learning to pupils not on-site, and that the government’s decision to enforce this through legislation and increasingly detailed guidance is heavy-handed and unnecessary.

6 Postpone the resumption of full Ofsted inspections until at least September 2021
Back in the autumn term, we were pleased with Ofsted’s decision not to resume full inspections from January. We had argued that there should, though, be a mechanism for schools previously judged inadequate or requires improvement to demonstrate that they were on an improving trajectory. Our view was that the proposed monitoring inspections would have provided such a mechanism.

Like so many other things, this has shifted again since the announcement of the current lockdown. We are now deeply concerned about the idea of monitoring visits continuing to take place this term, with a focus on remote education, and that parents with concerns over their child’s remote learning provision have been told that they should report these concerns directly to Ofsted. We are currently in discussion with Ofsted about this.

7 Reimburse schools and colleges for additional Covid-related costs Finally, we have been continuing to ensure that both the DfE and the Treasury are aware of the huge amounts of money schools and colleges have had to spend on Covid-related costs.

The introduction of the Covid workforce fund is a step in the right direction, but is limited. We will continue to fight for schools and colleges to be properly reimbursed for the costs associated with Covid. 


Julie McCulloch
ASCL Director of Policy

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In the news

ASCL has been quoted widely in the media over the recent period on a range of issues. Expand

ASCL has been quoted widely in the media over the recent period on a range of issues.

ASCL has continued to be widely quoted in the national, local and specialist press, and ASCL representatives have been regularly interviewed on a range of television and radio shows.

In the first three weeks of December alone, ASCL featured in the media on more than 2,000 occasions, speaking on a variety of topics connected mainly, but not solely, to the Covid pandemic.

These included our calls for schools and colleges to be sufficiently funded to cover Covid-associated costs, our response to plans for next summer’s exams and our dismay at the government’s handling of end-of-term arrangements in England.

You can read all our press releases on our website at: www.ascl.org.uk/press

December’s media coverage included interviews with General Secretary Geoff Barton on BBC Breakfast, ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Sky News, the BBC News, local television and radio news shows, BBC Radio 5 Live, LBC radio, talkRADIO and many others. You can see Geoff’s BBC Breakfast interview on 15 December, on the clash between the government and Greenwich council over end-of-term arrangements, at: https://vimeo.com/491082080

Your feedback is crucial in informing what we say in the media, and we are hugely grateful for the many emails you send to us. Please keep them coming.

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Should auld acquaintance be forgot

Here’s the latest information from our colleagues across the nation. Expand

Here’s the latest information from our colleagues across the nation. ASCL is proud to represent school and college leaders from all over the UK – to find out more, see www.ascl.org.uk/Membership/ASCL-UK

The end of the year is traditionally a time for reflection, allied to looking forward with an optimism drawn from the learning derived from the experiences of the year past.

The question might be posed as 2020 closes: Where do I start?

If I could presume to suggest that, forby Robert Burns, as good a place is Chapter 1 of John Dunford’s book The School Leadership Journey: What 40 years in education has taught me about leading schools in an ever-changing landscape.

Our school communities have been served by leaders who have modelled the cooperative ethical values of openness, honesty, social responsibility and, above all, caring for others.

As we look towards 2021, the recovery of the education system, the repair of the damage done to young people and, above all, the restoration of a national self-confidence, are challenges that none of us has ever faced. The phrase ‘new norm’ trips off the tongue. Creating what that will be is a long-term and complex challenge.

What is important, following this period of reflection, is not what we are going to do, but the manner in which we will approach the task. Through the overt living of their values over the past months, school leaders are now, more than ever, valued and trusted within their communities.

While individuals can build on this at a local level, there is a role for us, as their professional association of choice, to ensure that government hears and listens to that message, and affords them the support and trust that they are due, to empower them to lead the healing and recovery process.

As Burns wrote:
“And there’s a hand,
my trusty fiere
And gie’s a hand o’ thine
And we’ll tak a right
gude-willy waught
For auld lang syne” 

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Every child is special

Despite the demands of Covid-19, schools and ASCL in Northern Ireland have been responding to two major consultations on educational underachievement and on SEN provision. Expand

Despite the demands of Covid-19, schools and ASCL in Northern Ireland have been responding to two major consultations on educational underachievement and on SEN provision.

In 2016, ASCL contributed to a wide-ranging analysis by the Post Primary Task Force whose report, No Child Left Behind, Every Child First; Education, Employability and Skills: A pathway to inclusion and prosperity, sadly has remained on the shelf of decision makers.

In response to the current underachievement consultation, we concurred with the task force vision of focusing on “preparing all of our children and young people to access an education which allows them to develop the skills, knowledge and attitudes to allow them to play a positive role in society and the economy.”

Sometimes, it seems that schools are expected to be the panacea for all of society’s problems. Schools do not work in a vacuum; there are important links between education, health service, economy and community provision. None of these in isolation can achieve the desired outcomes. Pathways must be found to reinvigorate an aspirational as opposed to a dependency culture.

Sometimes, a narrow view equates underachievement solely with low academic outcomes. Underachievement is not restricted to children from any socio-economic class nor indeed ability. Able children, not adequately challenged, are underachieving as much as those who are less able.

SEN in Northern Ireland is centrally led and funded, with almost a fifth of children in schools having some form of special educational need and of those, about 19,000 having a ‘statement’ of SEN. Time limits for pupils receiving a statement are problematic, with only about one in ten being completed on time. It is against these failings that the Department of Education has initiated its review aiming to develop a new, more responsive, SEN Framework.

As we reply to these consultations, we want to see a system that better responds to specific learning needs, while creating an educational climate where, in the words of Chuck Close, an American artist, “Every child should have a chance to feel special.

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From broken to beautiful

What is the test of the gold standard of leadership? Before this pandemic, the public answer rested upon a matrix of predetermined, narrow performance outcomes. Expand

What is the test of the gold standard of leadership? Before this pandemic, the public answer rested upon a matrix of predetermined, narrow performance outcomes. This created a compelling and mesmerising scoreboard that had the effect of equating to excellent leadership. The aim for leaders was to hit those numbers. After that, all would come good. The public perception would be that the school was a good one, leadership was strong.

“The question is, are we happy spinning figures that make us look good but never really make a difference?” (Sharples 2013).

While I exaggerate to prove a point, I am sure that you will recognise much of this characterisation. We can easily get obsessed with the target rather than the fundamentals of being a leader in education – why we came into the job of teaching in the first place.

Where we are today is rather different. The gold standard is not now able to be measured by exam results or narrow outcomes, particularly when exams last summer were such a mess. The algorithm, which was supposed to have maintained the balance, shook the tightrope and the regulators fell off. Had they been a school or college, they may well have dreaded the visit of the inspectorate, or the myriad of other bodies who hold to account.

Leaders, however, have been trapped in a system that values the spinning figures rather than the moral imperative. Surely over this period, the big reveal is that much of what we thought we valued is fool’s gold. We knew it all along.

I am reminded of the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which is the practice of repairing fractures in broken pottery with gold. Here, the gold in the cracks is made a virtue of and highlighted as part of the beauty in the artefact. The salving beauty and elegance of your leadership in the face of societal and educational cracks are clear for all to see.

As American author Ernest Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.”

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ASCL Benevolent Fund

The ASCL Benevolent Fund ( Expand

The ASCL Benevolent Fund (ABF) is an important element in the Association’s policy of providing protection and care for all its members, past and present, and their dependants.

While most members, active and in post, are unlikely to need help, a serious accident, redundancy, chronic illness or disability can change the situation quite traumatically. Whether it is a short-term financial crisis or a long-term problem, the fund stands ready to help. If you know someone who may benefit from the fund or if you think that you would benefit yourself, please call 0116 299 1122 or find out more online at: www.ascl.org.uk/benevolentfund

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For all your CPD needs

ASCL Professional Development ( Expand

ASCL Professional Development (ASCL PD) is a leading provider of continuing professional development (CPD) and leadership development across the UK. We design, develop and organise a range of conferences, short courses, nationally recognised qualifications (www.ascl.org.uk/qualifications) and tailor-made services (www.ascl.org.uk/tailor-made) that are responsive to both government initiatives and professional needs identified by colleagues in schools and colleges.

Our events are designed for all colleagues – members and non-members – who aspire to or are in management and leadership positions in schools, colleges and trusts.

All our events feature expert input from highly respected educational consultants and leading practitioners, as well as our own team of experienced specialists (www.ascl.org.uk/specialists).

Our friendly staff always ensure delegates have everything they need before, during and after attending our events, including access to high-quality resources to share with colleagues at your schools and colleges.

Our courses, qualifications and tailor-made training tackle the key issues that you are facing, and throughout the pandemic, many are available via online platforms. Discover more at www.ascl.org.uk/asclpd

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Open Data Project for Schools

Delivered by ASCL, the Open Data Project for Schools ( Expand

Delivered by ASCL, the Open Data Project for Schools (opendataproject.org.uk) is a secure platform for schools to share and compare the data they already collect for the benefit of pupils.

We would like to thank all members for their support and participation this past year. The overall aim of the project is to improve the way schools use the data they collect for the benefit of the pupils and we have worked hard to deliver that in a number of ways:

Attendance In 2020, we welcomed more members to the Open Data Project, taking us close to 100 participating schools. We worked to improve the attendance dashboards and in December, added Covid-19 X Code tracking to help serve the needs to schools even better during these difficult times.

Transition In spring 2020, we developed a brand new tool for schools which helped communicate pupil information from Year 6 to Year 7, in the absence of SATs. You can read more about and sign up for SixIntoSeven 2021 here: opendataproject.org.uk/sixintoseven

2021 outlook As the project grows and evolves, we will be working with even more schools to refine and develop approaches to data. We will invite members to join working and steering groups that will influence the approach we take to this year’s Transition Project, and the developments we will be making to attendance benchmarking and group dashboards.

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Supporting you throughout the pandemic

In what has been a very challenging time, we hope you will agree that for the service and support provided, ASCL membership represents excellent value. Expand

In what has been a very challenging time, we hope you will agree that for the service and support provided, ASCL membership represents excellent value.

During this crisis, we’ve worked very hard to keep members updated and informed on all aspects of managing the impact of the pandemic on education as well as other issues. We’ve introduced regular briefings, video updates plus the incredibly popular Team ASCL webinars which have been viewed tens of thousands of times. We’ve also been updating our online FAQs (www.ascl.org.uk/coronavirus) several times each week as well as working hard with policy makers to shape and improve guidance.

We’ve also experienced record requests for support from members via the Member Support Hotline on an ever-growing range of issues. If you need any help or advice about any leadership issues, please call our Hotline on 0116 299 1122 or email: hotline@ascl.org.uk

Please also note that all information in Leader was correct at the time of writing however, due to the fast-changing pace of this crisis, information can change. Please check ASCL’s other communications channels, including our newsletters, website (www.ascl.org.uk) and Twitter feed (@ASCL_UK) for new and regular updates.

Additionally, if you’ve changed your role, employer, home address or email address, please take a moment to update your membership record. You can do this easily by logging into your account at www.ascl.org.uk/login or by clicking here www.ascl.org.uk/updatedetails to send us your latest details. Ensuring we have your most up-to-date details enables us to help you quicker and allows us to make sure you receive all of your member benefits.

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Time is precious! Pinpointing your gaps

As we navigate these difficult times, it is important that you have an easy-to-use, efficient and informative data analysis system to guide you in how to support your students in making the best possible progress. Expand

As we navigate these difficult times, it is important that you have an easy-to-use, efficient and informative data analysis system to guide you in how to support your students in making the best possible progress. As we enter the spring term, you will have designed a regular assessment package to ask questions about your progress gaps: 

  • How do we know if the grades awarded through mock/internal assessment present a true picture of progress?
  • Are our progress intervention strategies targeted at the correct subjects/students?
  • What impact are these strategies having on the progress of our students?

Connect Interactive is quick and easy for all teachers to use. It is an online system designed to support you in finding the answers to your questions on student progress.

It provides an effective tracking system that is accessible to all. Within minutes your staff can use the unique thermometer and other powerful tools to get to the heart of how their class progress measures up and how they might intervene to support their students’ learning.

To try it out for yourself, sign up for the 30-day free trial of Connect Interactive at https://alps.education/

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Education, health and care plans

A BBC freedom of information ( Expand

A BBC freedom of information (FOI) request has found that since 2017, more than 1,300 children were granted an education, health and care plan (EHCP) after being excluded (tinyurl.com/y27lfe4p). The implications from this are that applications for EHCPs can take too long to process, too many applications are initially unsuccessful and that exclusion is too often the catalyst for change. If the route to parents successfully obtaining an EHCP is via exclusion, the system is clearly flawed.

This finding is unlikely to come as much of a surprise to those schools who are struggling to meet pupils’ complex needs out of their notional SEN budgets and who feel unable to obtain the additional support they require without an EHCP. The DfE has outlined plans to increase its spending for children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) by £1.5 billion over the next two years. Given that recently published data from 2018/19 (tinyurl.com/yy3g72bw) shows that exclusion rates are over five times more likely for pupils on SEN support but without EHCPs compared to other students without SEN, further support for schools and more specialist placements are urgently required. 

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Notes on guidance

Leader contains general guidance on the law that has been supplied by our Premier Partner for legal and HR services, Browne Jacobson LLP. Expand

Leader contains general guidance on the law that has been supplied by our Premier Partner for legal and HR services, Browne Jacobson LLP. If you would like to seek advice from a legal professional please contact Browne Jacobson at 0370 270 6000. ASCL members can also call the ASCL Hotline on 0116 2991122 for support on legal issues relating specifically to their own employment.

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Information on school websites

In November, the DfE updated its guidance on the information that schools are required to publish on their websites. Expand

In November, the DfE updated its guidance on the information that schools are required to publish on their websites.

There are now very few differences in the guidance for maintained schools and academies/free schools, as all schools are obliged to publish similar information.

New sections relate to the coronavirus (Covid-19) catch-up premium that requires schools to detail how the grant will be spent and how its effect will be assessed. There are also updates to sections on admission arrangements, exams and assessment results (which relate to previous years), curriculum, governors’ information and duties, Pupil Premium, Year 7 literacy and numeracy catch-up premium and the PE and sport premium for primary schools. The section on equality objectives has been updated, reminding schools that they must publish details of how they comply with their public sector equality duty every year and their equality objectives (which must be updated at least once every four years).

There are also updates to the section on special educational needs and disability (SEND) information, reminding schools that they must annually publish information about the implementation of the school’s policy for pupils with SEND, admission arrangements for pupils with SEND, facilities accessible to pupils with SEND and their accessibility plan.

Read the guidance on what maintained schools must publish online, here: tinyurl.com/yyq7vcml

Read the guidance on what academies, free schools and colleges should publish online, here: tinyurl.com/y3nf69bl 

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Ofsted challenge update

The case of R. Expand

The case of R. (on the application of the Governing Body of X) v Ofsted [2020] EWCA demonstrates how difficult it is for schools and colleges to challenge the findings in Ofsted reports. In this case, the judge refused the school’s application for an injunction to withhold publication of the report. The school was also refused permission for an application for judicial review.

One of the arguments put forward by the school was that the decision to downgrade the school from good to inadequate was irrational as the evidential basis for some of the inspectors’ findings was weak. The Court of Appeal confirmed that a school has to show exceptional circumstances, compelling reasons or pressing grounds for such an application to be successful. The court will not substitute its own judgment for the evidence-based conclusions of inspectors, who are entitled to place greater weight on particular evidence (such as pupils’ views).

While applying for judicial review of a report is still an avenue open to schools and colleges who may believe the findings are irrational, biased or procedurally unfair, there is a ‘high hurdle’ to overcome and limited scope in which to challenge the findings. In addition, such a challenge is likely to be in full public view, which could increase the publicity of the report – the very thing the school or college may wish to avoid.

Read more about the case at www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2020/594.html

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Exclusions update

Browne Jacobson LLP has recently been involved in defending an academy following a parental claim for judicial review. Expand

Browne Jacobson LLP has recently been involved in defending an academy following a parental claim for judicial review. The claim related to a governors’ reconsideration of a permanent exclusion following an Independent Review Panel (IRP) decision to quash the original governors’ decision. On reconsideration, the governors had thoroughly reviewed the evidence in light of the IRP decision and decided not to reinstate the student.

The claim made by the parents was that governors, on reconsideration, had to follow the binding decision of the IRP and the only way that the IRP decision could be challenged or deviated from, was by the school judicially reviewing the IRP decision. The parents argued that the governors had sat in an appellate capacity above the IRP. The argument we put forward was that it was clearly lawful for the governors on reconsideration to arrive at the same conclusion as the original governors’ decision, as long as they undertook their role in light of the available evidence, the IRP decision and the DfE guidance.

The High Court agreed with our arguments. The binding element of the IRP decision was the requirement for governors to reconsider. It was open for a reconsideration decision to arrive at the same outcome as the original decision and that such actions were in line with the DfE guidance.

The role undertaken by governors was lawful as was the decision to reconsider by adopting the tests used by governors during the initial review – whether the headteacher’s decision was lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair in light of the available evidence (paragraphs 63 and 71 of the DfE guidance). 

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Misuse of data

Earlier this year, a school was directed to pay £4,500 in damages to a parent and child for the unlawful misuse of their personal information. Expand

Earlier this year, a school was directed to pay £4,500 in damages to a parent and child for the unlawful misuse of their personal information. Following a behavioural incident, the school sent a letter to all parents in a year group identifying a child in that year group and referencing the child’s disability.

The parent of the disabled child brought a claim against the school for breaches of the Data Protection Act, Article 8 and 14 of the Human Rights Act, and for the misuse of personal information. The judge found that the school did breach the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act, but limited damages to an award for the unlawful misuse of personal information.

This case serves as a useful reminder for institutions about the need to take care when processing personal data and ensuring that robust procedures are in place to ensure that such data is not shared with third parties, without having a lawful basis on which to do so. Staff training on data sharing is essential and should be refreshed and updated regularly.

Read more about the case at www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2020/1046.html

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LEADING READING