2020 Spring Term 1


  • A future from the heart
    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. More
  • Paws for thought
    ASCL General Secretary Geoff Barton on how the Association will take the lead, working with and holding the new government to account to shape the education system we all want and need. More
  • Winning team
    Rugby star turned star broadcaster Maggie Alphonsi talks to Julie Nightingale about being the disruptive kid who became a World Cup medal-winning sports star and what it has taught her about leadership, self-confidence and mental strength. More
  • Moral compass
    Everyone in the exam and assessment world must take an ethical approach if malpractice is to be prevented, says former ASCL general secretary John Dunford. Here he highlights the findings of an independent commission. More
  • An inspector calls
    The thought of a 90-minute pre-inspection phone call with a lead inspector may not seem like something to celebrate but it needn't be too daunting. Here, ASCL Inspection Specialist Stephen Rollett shares his insights. More
  • Wishful thinking
    After four years of Area Reviews, what does the further education sector now look like? Here ASCL's Senior Adviser on College Leadership, Dr Anne Murdoch, OBE, shares her insights. More
  • Close encounters
    How do we ensure that students get the most out of their encounters with the world of work? CEO of the Education and Employers Charity Nick Chambers shares the latest evidence. More
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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

A future from the heart

In 2014, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) declared that Wales had no long-term vision for education. In 2019, the BBC aired an interview with OECD’s Andreas Schleicher, before the publication of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, where he said that Wales had “lost its soul”. As it turned out, the PISA headlines demonstrated that, in fact, there is an improving picture in Wales. While noting the positive headlines and listening to the understated news bulletins (no one likes a good news story), leaders in Wales will look up from their work briefly and breathe a sigh of relief.

If we wish our country to be truly excellent then we must begin with tackling inequality and inequity head on. Policymakers must put our most vulnerable in society foremost in their thinking.

Our policymakers and politicians most certainly will have felt the pressure of this international accountability measure. However, if they amplified that worry and stress, perhaps that might just get close to the daily anxieties and pressures experienced by school leaders.

Perhaps politicians can now breathe a sigh of relief. For school leaders and educators, the value of these results is that they will hopefully, provide stability in our heavily reformed system and give some political confidence that we are moving in the right direction. But we as leaders know there is so much more going on under the surface within our schools and in our communities.

The day the PISA results were published, another shocking news story sat side-by-side. Wales has seen an increase of 46% of children in our schools who were homeless over Christmas. This appalling inequity is in sharp relief to a system that asks for excellence. How can we celebrate improvements in international rankings when we have children in dire poverty? How can we celebrate, when we know that our qualification system dooms a third of children to failure? And how can we feel good about ourselves, when The Trussell Trust (July 2019) tells us that Wales has the highest child poverty rates in the UK?

No vision? No soul? We in Wales have both. Now it’s time for our politicians to build an education system with a heart.

If we wish our country to be truly excellent then we must begin with tackling inequality and inequity head on. Policymakers must put our most vulnerable in society foremost in their thinking. Our obsession with testing and valuing only what we can measure is disenfranchising many of our most vulnerable.

Eithne Hughes
Director of ASCL Cymru

A shared sense of common purpose and an agreed agenda

Our visits to ASCL Council reveal, through formal discussions at committee meetings and in informal social engagement, that the challenges currently facing school leaders are common across the UK.

The effective delivery of our core business is impacted upon negatively by insufficient funding, difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff and the physical and mental wellbeing of colleagues and young people.

While accepting that it is the legitimate role of a professional association to speak vociferously to Scottish government and local authorities on behalf of its members, School Leaders Scotland (SLS) is fully committed to the system-wide shared vision and sense of common purpose that exists in Scottish education, in pursuit of what is best for Scotland’s young people.

In Scotland there is an explicit vision for education:

  • Excellence through raising attainment: ensuring that every child achieves the highest standards in literacy and numeracy, set out within Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) levels, and the right range of skills, qualifications and achievements to allow them to succeed.
  • Achieving equity: ensuring every child has the same opportunity to succeed, with a particular focus on closing the povertyrelated attainment gap.

That vision and sense of common purpose lies in the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence within the universally agreed and accepted National Improvement Framework (https://tinyurl.com/yx3nadfl), which was co-constructed by all partners in the Scottish education system, published in January 2016 and is subject to annual review.

So, while the challenges remain and test our resilience daily, it is hugely valuable to have a shared vision, a sense of common purpose and an agreed agenda against which to evaluate core purpose delivery.

Jim Thewliss
General Secretary
School Leaders Scotland

Seeking swift resolution in a challenging education landscape

I mentioned in the last edition, the enormous challenges facing school leaders in Northern Ireland. Industrial action short of strike action has been going on for over three years. Among the many strategies deployed by teachers has been to withdraw co-operation from school inspections and teachers not attending any meetings or events before or after pupil session times, or during lunchbreaks. All unions, with the exception of ASCL, are now involved in some form of action. ASCL Northern Ireland Executive has been strong in its lobbying with the Department of Education, Department of Finance and employers, and highlighting that teachers deserve to be fairly paid for the work they do and we are calling for a resolution to this. Our members continue to work hard to maintain good relations with their staff, in the best interests of our young people, in the hope that this can soon be resolved.

Despite the challenges, school leaders in Northern Ireland remain focused on doing the best for the young people in their care. This was evident in November at our ASCL Northern Ireland Annual Conference where it was wonderful to meet so many of you. With the theme ‘Using the Evidence, Making the Difference’ there were excellent presentations from Professor Rob Coe, Evidence Based Education, and from Dr Patrick Shevlin, Dublin City University, on strategies for school improvement. It was also great to hear from some of our own members who have been working with Paddy Shevlin on evidence-based improvement strategies in their own schools.

Recent PISA results show Northern Ireland pupils performing better than their age group in Wales but slightly behind those in England in reading, maths and science. They performed slightly above Scotland in maths and science but below it in reading. The study, however, also found Northern Ireland pupils to be less likely to read books or read for enjoyment than other pupils around the world. They are also more likely to feel sad, scared or worried and to feel that their life does not have a purpose. The latter is a disturbing fact and one that cannot be resolved by schools alone.

Robert Wilson
ASCL Northern Ireland
Regional Officer