2021 Spring Term 2

NEWS AND GUIDANCE

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News and guidance

Renewed focus

Every school or college leader’s experience of the pandemic will be different, both from a personal and a professional point of view. Expand

Every school or college leader’s experience of the pandemic will be different, both from a personal and a professional point of view. What is consistent is the feeling our world has changed around us and a new ‘zeitgeist’ is emerging from the carnage of Covid. The key aspect of this new world can be summed up in a single word: ‘vulnerability’. Personal vulnerability, institutional vulnerability and global vulnerability. The might of humankind has been tamed by an invisible natural enemy, leaving our societies in disarray. 

Vulnerable people tend to grasp the first hopeful prospect that sails by, sometimes leading to dangerous longer-term consequences. A brief reflection on the rise of the far right in the 1930s should be a lesson learned. However, as educators, we have the opportunity to shape this emerging zeitgeist in a positive way and build on some attitudinal and behavioural trends emerging from this crisis. 

Covid has led us to reflect on what is really important in our lives and move away from focusing on material wealth to focusing on the importance of family, friends, health and joy. More young people now want careers that have social value and they are turning their backs on traditional ‘high-status’ jobs. Young people have also been affected by the Black Lives Matter movement and want to live in a fairer world where diversity is celebrated. And they also worry about the fate of our planet, increasing that sense of vulnerability and the desire for change.

These values are reflected in fresh approaches to learning as well as a renewed understanding of the role of schools and colleges as communities rather than ‘exam factories’. There is renewed impetus to abandon GCSEs and even look at a move away from high-stakes examinations, towards ‘e-portfolios’ and crediting ‘people skills’, alongside academic knowledge. There is also renewed emphasis on the importance of the arts, sport and creativity in the curriculum.

As leaders we set the culture and values for our organisations and we need to support this younger generation to find a more positive future that reflects changed perspectives and newly prioritised values. The new post-Covid zeitgeist will be shaped in the coming months and offers hope that it will not just be online learning we have learnt about during these tragic months but that, together, we have once again found what it is to be human.

Richard Sheriff
ASCL President 2020/21

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ASCL Influence

As Lenin allegedly said, there are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen. Expand

As Lenin allegedly said, there are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen. I’m writing this towards the end of a week that definitely feels like one of the latter.

Within four days, we’ve had a new government roadmap with confirmation that all pupils in England will be back in school at the beginning of March, an announcement of a new ‘education recovery package’ and confirmation of how GCSEs, A levels and vocational qualifications will be graded this year. And it’s still only Thursday.

Here in the ASCL Policy Team we have, as ever, been doing our best to work with the government well in advance of any public announcements, to ensure that the voice and experience of school and college leaders is heard as policy is formed.

We do that through formal meetings, but also through numerous informal conversations with ministers and civil servants. Where we think it would be helpful, we liaise with other organisations to present a collective view.

We don’t, of course, always achieve the outcome we want. But we do think we’ve had a significant impact on some of the decisions made over the last few weeks. Here is a flavour of some areas where our engagement has paid dividends.

Awarding of GCSE s, A levels and vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs)

We’ve been deeply involved in discussions about how students can be fairly and consistently assessed this year – initially about what adaptations would need to be made to an exam-based system and then, when the decision was made that exams could not go ahead, about an approach based on teacher assessment.

In our response to the consultation on how grades should be awarded, we answered the questions asked but, more importantly, set out our own preferred approach (see www.ascl.org. uk/AwardsConsultation). We followed this up by coordinating a joint statement from six unions and other organisations, setting out a series of principles endorsed by all six organisations (see www.ascl.org.uk/JointStatementExams21).

We subsequently took part in numerous formal and informal discussions with the DfE, Ofqual and the exam boards, sharing views on different aspects of the process. The final approach agreed by the DfE and Ofsted isn’t perfect – nothing could be – but we think it reflects many of the principles we set out, and provides some flexibility to recognise differential learning loss while including sufficient rigour to ensure grades are credible.

The exam boards have committed to providing detailed guidance on every qualification before the end of the spring term. Once it is clear what this includes, we will also consider what additional support it would be helpful for us to provide to members.

Finally on exams, we have started to have conversations with the government about how grading should take place in 2022. We will keep members in the loop with these discussions.

Asymptomatic testing

As members will know, we have been discussing the practicalities of undertaking asymptomatic testing in schools and colleges with the government for months. Back in December, we made it clear that not all schools and colleges would be in a position to set up testing sites over the Christmas holiday, ready for the planned return of all students in January.

More recently, we have been pushing hard for secondary staff and students to be able to test themselves at home, as primary staff have been able to do for some time now, to minimise the burden on secondary schools and colleges of running on-site testing centres. We’re very pleased that this will shortly be the case.

We have also spent a great deal of time talking to the government about the challenge involved in having to test all secondary and college students three times on site in March, before moving to the home-based model. One change we suggested was to enable schools and colleges to bring students in for their first one, or even two, tests in the week before 8 March and we’re pleased that the government agreed to that suggestion.

Performance measures

The government agreed several months ago that the results of any primary assessments, GCSEs, A levels and vocational and technical qualifications would not be used in performance tables this year. Until recently, however, the government had been silent on whether or not this information would be shared with Ofsted and other organisations, and if so, how it might be used.

We have held many meetings with ministers and civil servants in which we have stressed how inappropriate and counterproductive it would be for performance measures to be used to hold schools and colleges to account in any way in 2020/21.

We were therefore delighted when the government released updated guidance on accountability in 2020/21 at the end of February (tinyurl.com/yzbrc625), confirming that data from this year’s assessments will not be made available for other organisations, including Ofsted, Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) or local authorities, to use to hold schools and colleges to account.

Catch-up

Finally, we have been involved in a number of discussions about catch-up. We have been arguing strongly for three key principles – that education recovery should be based on quality not quantity; that funding should be devolved to individual schools to spend in ways they think will best support their pupils; and that approaches should focus on long-term benefits, not short-term ‘fixes’. 

We are pleased that the government has appointed Sir Kevan Collins to oversee this work, and that they have made it clear that announcements so far concerning tutoring and summer schools are only the start of a much longer-term plan. We will continue to engage with Sir Kevan and his colleagues in drawing up that plan.

Strange times

If anyone had told me a year ago that I’d be spending significant amounts of my time discussing nasal swabs and quoting Lenin, I’d have thought they were mad. Such are the times we’re living in.

Thank you to the many members who help us to better represent you in these strange times by sharing your thoughts with us through our webinars, the TellUs@ascl.org.uk email address and other channels. Let’s see what the next couple of months bring.

Julie McCulloch
ASCL Director of Policy

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Even better if...

Considering what has happened over this last year, I really wonder how has the education system fared? The four stages of competence may be a useful tool on this occasion to shape our thinking. Expand


Considering what has happened over this last year, I really wonder how has the education system fared? The four stages of competence may be a useful tool on this occasion to shape our thinking.

In that hierarchy, we have the unconscious incompetent, the conscious incompetent, the conscious competent and the unconscious competent. We probably all recognise people and system leaders in each of these descriptors. And I guess that we each hope that we don’t belong to the first category. But it certainly is clear that there are areas of the education system that have truly shone and others we would wish to remain in darkness.

Here in Wales, for example, a damning and damaging report into the summer 2020 qualifications debacle saw leaders’ confidence in the qualifications regulator and the monopoly examination board hit rock bottom. While the report was scathing, leaders were not surprised at the contents but, as ever, are happy to build bridges.

Those areas of the system that are hardest to change are those that feel they have the gift of infinite wisdom and yet have no clue that, in fact, the opposite is the case. It is an impossible task to improve a person or a system that has insufficient self-awareness to understand its own expertise. So, reflecting on this year, what went well:

  • School and college leadership in Wales has been extraordinary. Leaders have stepped up, been agile, responsible, diligent and utterly driven to do the very best for every child.
  • Digital teaching and learning were turbo boosted.
  • The inspectorate realised that being inspectorial was counterproductive to crisis leadership.
  • Everyone realised that education What was perhaps taken for granted is now more valued. is a vital part of our society.

It would be even better if:

  • those who lead and shape some parts of the system talked to our learners and the professionals instead of deciding they know best and pressing on regardless
  • we recalibrated our education system from the position of our most disadvantaged
  • instructional leadership, rather than managerial leadership, was the norm
  • we don’t lose what remarkable gains we have made during this time

In summary, as leaders, as a union, we have proved ourselves to be more than competent, consciously and unconsciously. As the American author John C Maxwell said, “There are three qualities a leader must exemplify to build trust: competence, connection and character.” How very true!

Eithne Hughes
Director of ASCL Cymru

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From abnormal to extraordinary

It would be good to think that things were gradually becoming better and there was due cause for optimism. Expand

It would be good to think that things were gradually becoming better and there was due cause for optimism. ‘R’ is gradually edging downwards, the rate of vaccination is increasing and some of our young people are about to come back into school. We do so in Scotland with guidance from a report from the Scottish Government’s International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA). In its report, ICEA advises:

  • This is not a time for getting back to normal. It is not even time to develop a modified new normal. It is time to look to the future and redesign Scottish education as a universally designed system for all contingencies and disruptions.
  • There may be a silver lining to the Covid-19 crisis in terms of a chance to rearrange and reset schools, reimagine learning and rethink education on more inclusive, responsive, agile and collaborative lines in ways that would entail bold and brave shifts in policy and leadership mindsets.

ICEA encourages all involved in Scottish Education to commit to the co-creation of an education system that can, and should, develop self-directed learners; provide access to digitally based learning as a human right; transform assessment to be continuous, inclusive and responsive; and ensure that all students and teachers are equipped with online and outdoor capabilities that will be pandemic proof in the future, and significantly better in the present. All of this can and should occur within a universally designed system that becomes increasingly inclusive, responsive, agile and collaborative.

Given what we have come through, and have still to face, it would be easy to seek the comfort of a normality that, although new, recreates that in which we were comfortable and accustomed. If we hadn’t already worked it out for ourselves, ICEA has alerted us to the professional and moral imperative that we have to move from the past year’s abnormal interruption to young people’s learning, and to commit to creating an extraordinary future for all their education.

Jim Thewliss
General Secretary,
School Leaders Scotland

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Things will be different

Recently, we reminded the Chief Inspector that when inspections resume, schools will be different places. Expand

Recently, we reminded the Chief Inspector that when inspections resume, schools will be different places. In conversation with members over the last year, many learning points from Covid-19 emerged, which will make our schools more efficient and better places in the future. Schools have become innovative places in terms of technological application and professional development. Teachers and pupils have risen to the challenge of remote learning and, around the country, I hear of innovative uses of technology with which staff and pupils are becoming very comfortable.

One member said to me, “In my school all the boats are riding with this new tide – the staff reluctant to engage in new technologies have been brought along with the swell and the enthusiasm of staff more skilled and motivated on this area with genuine upskilling across the board.” As Gina Greenlee writes in her Postcards and Pearls: Life lessons from solo moments on the road, “Experience is a master teacher, even when it’s not our own.” While training courses in the areas of remote learning are useful, it is the cascade of learning from one another that has brought about significant change in our schools.

Every headteacher dreaded ‘snow days’. In 2010–11, about two weeks of teaching and learning were lost. The ready response to remote teaching should mean no more lost teaching days when a school must close.

Who would have thought that parents’ evenings, as we knew them, would be a thing of the past? Virtual parent meetings have worked well and will probably outlive the virus – an end to queuing, no overheard conversations and the inevitable cold cups of coffee on the teachers’ desks.

The late science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke said, “The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.” Our schools have done this, and each day are discovering that the limits to the possible are extended. Well done school leaders and all school staff in Northern Ireland.

Robert Wilson
ASCL Northern Ireland
Regional Officer

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Are you missing out...?

To make sure that you have access to all of the benefits of ASCL membership, it’s important that you let us know about any changes to your employment or contact details. Expand

To make sure that you have access to all of the benefits of ASCL membership, it’s important that you let us know about any changes to your employment or contact details. If you have changed role, moved to a different organisation, changed your contact telephone number or moved home, please take a few moments to give us your latest details either by logging in to My ASCL (www.ascl.org.uk/login) or completing an update form (www.ascl.org.uk/updatedetails).

You can also make sure that you are registered to receive our specialist newsletters for primary, post-16, business leadership, trust leaders and more.

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Special school placements

The shortage of special school placements across a number of local authorities is having a wide impact on the education sector. Expand

The shortage of special school placements across a number of local authorities is having a wide impact on the education sector. This not only affects the nature of appeals brought against local authorities in the SEND Tribunal, but also has significant impact on the functioning of mainstream schools in trying to meet the needs of its special educational needs and disability (SEND) pupils while waiting for placements.

With local maintained special schools being full and often significantly breaching their numbers to assist pressured local authorities, parents are commonly requesting and succeeding in obtaining expensive independent specialist provision through appeals in the tribunal.

The corresponding impact on the mainstream sector is that pupils are often left struggling, awaiting a local specialist placement or, alternatively, the outcome of a SEND appeal. This wait can, in all too many cases, result in both school and child being unable to cope and, ultimately, lead to permanent exclusion. It has not been unknown for a parent in such a situation to actively encourage permanent exclusion in order to speed up the specialist placement process.

Schools placed in this predicament will need to ensure proportionality in their actions to support the exclusion review process and potentially defend a discrimination claim. Close liaison with local authorities and parents, as well as reliance on the emergency review process, will support any such school in its plight.

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Retiring? Join as an associate

Retirement need not mean the end of your involvement with ASCL. Expand

Retirement need not mean the end of your involvement with ASCL. We have valued your membership and hope you feel the same. By becoming an associate member, you can remain connected to and informed about education leadership. You are also able to continue to enjoy many of the benefits of ASCL membership at a reduced cost.

Associates receive ASCL publications, including Leader and a regular associates newsletter, and have access to the resources on our website (www.ascl.org.uk) and email newsletters. Normally we have an annual reunion lunch, though in the current Covid climate we are developing virtual links, including an online session with ASCL General Secretary, Geoff Barton, and an upcoming virtual walk.

Pensions advice and insurance concessions are available and there is representation through an elected Associates’ Committee.

Associates also have the chance to give something back through the Associates Voluntary Service, which offers assistance and support to members still in post.

Associate membership is available either by payment annually or by a one-off payment for a lifetime subscription. Join as an associate member today and find out more about how we can support you in the next phase of your life – see online for more details: www.ascl.org.uk/associates

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Admission appeals

Given the ongoing restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, the DfE has published further regulations to amend the operation of admission appeals. Expand

Given the ongoing restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, the DfE has published further regulations to amend the operation of admission appeals. In April 2020, the DfE implemented amended regulations and published guidance to change how admission appeals could operate, and those regulations expired on 31 January 2021.

The new regulations now extend the life of the 2020 regulations until the end of September 2021. The guidance originally issued by the DfE in April 2020 has now been updated and is available to download here tinyurl.com/5xf5xk8v The new regulations:

  • disapply the requirement that appeals panels must be held in person and instead give flexibility for panel hearings to take place either in person, by telephone, via video conference or through a paper-based appeal where all parties can make representations in writing
  • relax the rules with regard to what happens if one of the three panel members withdraws (temporarily or permanently) to make it permissible for the panel to continue with and conclude the appeal as a panel of two
  • amend the deadlines relating to appeals for the time that the new regulations are in force
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Online CPD

Online CPD is growing in popularity and, with all the advantages, it’s easy to see why. Expand

Online CPD is growing in popularity and, with all the advantages, it’s easy to see why. By allowing staff to study at their own pace, from virtually anywhere, training can be more efficient and more effective and can benefit the individual and the school.

It also reduces the cost of training, can be personalised and makes sure that any quick need for upskilling can be met quickly. Staff can access a wider range of subjects and select specific content that may not be available locally.

BlueSky Learning is a growing online professional development library to support CPD through short, highly focused manageable learning modules, which can be accessed anytime, anywhere. It’s designed to fit around busy schedules while providing high-quality content, knowledge and skills. Modules are research-based and practitioner-led, and cover topics such as behaviour, literacy, assessment, attributes and leadership development. They are delivered in a number of short sections, addressing current research in the topic area, practical activities and implementation strategies to sustain and embed practice.

BlueSky Learning is available as an annual subscription licence for individuals (£40) and single organisations (£250–£750) as well as groups/trusts (bespoke pricing).

Find out more by visiting blueskylearning.co.uk or email hello@blueskylearning.co.uk to request a demonstration.

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Technology tribulations

During lockdowns, tech shortages mean many pupils, particularly disadvantaged pupils, do not have the laptops and equipment they need to engage in home learning. Expand

During lockdowns, tech shortages mean many pupils, particularly disadvantaged pupils, do not have the laptops and equipment they need to engage in home learning. Donations from the community do help and, to manage them correctly, trusts need to get their gifts and donations polices polished up and fit for purpose. Here’s exactly what you need to do:

  • As charity trustees (in academies, voluntary and foundation schools) and as governors with oversight responsibilities, it is good practice for schools to have a gifts/donations policy in place. This ensures that donations coming in from the community are identified and stewarded correctly, including those of equipment and technology. Having a well-thought-out policy and procedure will enable the school to protect itself and consider any issues arising in the donation of gifts or equipment. This will include risks and issues with the equipment itself, such as wiping and clearing data, virus protection and software.
  • Discuss such a scheme with your insurers regarding straightforward donations and any flow of liability if, for example, the items are found to be faulty or to cause injury or damage, or the individuals use the items to access inappropriate materials. In putting together such a document you will need to consider issues such as:
    - transfer of ownership
    - maintenance
    - pure donation
    - clear description and that the item is taken ‘as is’
    - warranty position
    - safe usage
    - any disclaimer wording
  • Schools are also likely to want to consider prioritisation of those most in need based on their own policies, reviews and evidence. However, it should be clear how this is done to prevent unnecessary challenges over the handout of the equipment.
  • Donations and gifts will, it is hoped, enhance stocks of equipment at schools but will not cover issues such as lack of access to broadband, data packages or general bill concerns. These are all issues being faced daily by schools and parents. By ensuring your school is in the best place to support parents and carers to help pupils who are learning remotely, promotes positive and quality access to education to prevent any pupils falling behind during a further lockdown with uncertain end dates.
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Governance

In October 2020, the DfE published new guidance on academy trust governance structures and the roles and responsibilities of each person/body within those structures. Expand

In October 2020, the DfE published new guidance on academy trust governance structures and the roles and responsibilities of each person/body within those structures. The Academy Trust Governance – Structures and Role Descriptors guide (tinyurl.com/yxdmb2ox) details the DfE’s expectations of members, trustees and the trust board, the chair and vice chair of trustees, the clerk (the ‘governance professional’), the CEO/principal (and other staff serving as trustees) and committees, including local governing bodies and parent local governors.

Interestingly, the guidance was released concurrently with a letter from Baroness Berridge addressed specifically to academy trust members, highlighting “the limited but crucial role members play in safeguarding academy trust governance, and… the importance of this role to all those working in academy trust governance”.

The guidance further stresses the importance of members being kept informed about academy trust business “so they can be assured that the trust board is exercising effective governance”.

The DfE’s specific attention to members in this regard suggests that this role may well receive increasing scrutiny. Academy trusts should be prepared to address challenging questions about their members and how the trust ensures that they are playing an effective role in the governance of their trust.

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In the news

We’ve continued to provide comments and interviews to the print and broadcast media on a range of issues arising during the coronavirus pandemic. Expand

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

We’ve continued to provide comments and interviews to the print and broadcast media on a range of issues arising during the coronavirus pandemic.

These have included discussion of the plans in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for the wider opening of schools following the latest lockdown; debate concerning plans for catch-up provision; proposals for assessing students this summer following the decision to cancel exams in GCSEs, A levels and other qualifications; and our submission to the School Teachers’ Review Body opposing the government’s decision to freeze the pay of school teachers and leaders. You can see all our press releases at www.ascl.org.uk/news

ASCL General Secretary, Geoff Barton, also writes a weekly column for TES in which he has addressed many of the topics that have arisen during the crisis – see them at www.tes.com/author/geoff-barton

Our most recent broadcast interviews have included Sky News, Channel 4 News, BBC News Channel, BBC Politics Live, BBC Radio 5 live, Times Radio, LBC, talkRADIO, ITV Good Morning Britain, and many local radio and television programmes.

Our profile in the media remains very high. In January, ASCL received more than 2,700 mentions in press and broadcast articles and interviews, and in December this was higher still at more than 3,500 mentions.

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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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LEADING READING