December 2017


  • All the right moves
    The future is never certain in the world of education says Geoff Barton. However, one thing leaders can rely on is that ASCL will continue to protect, defend and advise them. More
  • Preparation is key
    New data protection laws will apply from next year and schools and colleges must prepare for them now says Daljit Kaur, Associate at Browne Jacobson. More
  • Head first
    In a bid to equip young people with the tools to navigate their mental health and build their self-esteem, mental health organisation The Self-Esteem Team shares its top tips for staff and pupils. More
  • Time to speak out
    LGBT+ students need more role models among their teachers if they are to come out with confidence, says Daniel Gray, one of the organisers of new support and advocacy group LGBTed. More
  • Leading character education
    As discussion grows around character education, researchers David Sims and Matt Walker from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) highlight key findings from a new research project into the ways that five pioneering schools are leading character education within their settings. More
  • The gift of knowledge
    In celebration of the 100th issue of ASCL's Leader magazine, we asked senior leaders to share one piece of advice they would give to their younger selves if they were starting their first leadership role today. Here's what they said... More
  • Unfair shares
    Sam Ellis, Susan Fielden and Julia Harnden test out the National Funding Formula (NFF) and find it wanting. More
Bookmark and Share

The future is never certain in the world of education says Geoff Barton. However, one thing leaders can rely on is that ASCL will continue to protect, defend and advise them.

All the right moves

It’s tough to make predictions – especially about the future.” So said American baseball player and life-coach, Yogi Berra. He truly was the master of the memorable phrase.

In our various roles as leaders of the nation’s schools and colleges, it can be hard to look very far beyond the immediate. The future can feel a long way off, especially in these darker days of the autumn and winter terms.

Of course, there’s always some future thinking in our job. We’re expected to draw up strategic plans, to produce budget models, to predict pupil numbers for the years ahead. But this is all essentially an extension of the present – of thinking ‘What will it look like if we do more of this or less of that?’

And it’s what the UK education system is too often like, flogging itself harder to try to produce better outcomes, essentially by doing more of the same. Whether you work in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England, the way our schools and colleges are organised and funded is pretty much the same, dominated by similar approaches and characterised by the same terminology.

That’s why too often the discourse about UK education uses language that in other high-performing jurisdictions must seem unfamiliar – concepts like ‘accountability’, ‘measurement’ and ‘inspection’ seem alien and mechanistic in places like Shanghai and Ontario. Instead, they talk more of children and teachers, of pedagogy and leadership.

Making conversations count

One of the privileges of my role is that I get to meet a lot of people from different backgrounds, from this country and overseas. The main group I meet is our members – the people who, in the main, are working on the educational frontline, in colleges, academies and schools. You are our business leaders, assistant heads and deputies. You are principals, heads and chief executives. You are also consultants and advisers, or new recruits to a leadership team gaining a first taste of strategic leadership.

You’re the people who keep our education system going, the guardians of the nation’s teachers and young people.

When we meet at our Regional Information Conferences and at leadership conventions around the country, you tell me how it is back at base, about the morale of your team, the implications of funding and about the issues that are alive in your local context. Our local representatives tell me how things are playing out locally – stories of leaders working in tough circumstances, the ongoing struggle to recruit staff, the fallout from overzealous competition, the leadership reality of surface calm concealing inner turmoil.

In all of these encounters, you tell me also how you think ASCL is doing – whether we are authentically representing your voice on the issues that you think matter most.

The big picture

It’s what makes this job so interesting, the combination of nitty-gritty issues rubbing alongside opportunities to look at a bigger picture.

I was privileged recently to attend the annual conference in Belfast of HMC (Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference) – the leaders of some of the UK’s best-known independent schools. It was an event that exemplified what we know about leadership, how big issues are inextricably linked to small ones, and how we need to be able to deal with both. The conference contained a compelling session that explored the world as it is likely to be not too far from now and how automation, robots and artificial intelligence (AI) are beginning to redefine the kinds of skills that human beings will need. Here was an example of school leaders giving themselves time and space to gaze beyond the here-and-now.

It was followed by a powerful and cathartic session in which a group of leaders talked of the most traumatic events they have dealt with over the past year – the gnarled personnel issues involving staff, pupils and parents. Here we saw strong, experienced people sharing their most vulnerable moments, the moments that had challenged them most.

Seeing the big picture and dealing with the eventualities that life throws our way – this is the reality of leadership. And it’s why I hope you’ll see that at ASCL we continue to aim to give you a full service of support. The Hotline is there when you need reassurance and advice. Our field officers are there when you need someone with you face to face. Our lawyers are here to make sure you get the best advice. This is our core union business – protecting, defending, advising and guiding.

Shaping the future

But we are also keen to set a bigger agenda. It’s what our new President, Carl Ward, outlines in his theme for the year, Leading the Way. The aim is to lift education out of a narrow political cycle, to build a coalition around a shared vision for young people and their teachers and to work with employers, parents and other interested parties to shape the next phase of education policy development.

It’s why our annual conference next March will exude optimism, giving you the chance to meet colleagues, discuss big ideas, listen to top speakers and re-immerse yourself in the values and principles that underpin why we do the jobs we do.

It will be a conference in which we ask the questions so much of the rest of the world are asking: how are we helping our young people to navigate through a complex world? How are we helping teachers to play their key role better, and to stay longer in the profession? And as society itself changes – shaped by new technology and unimaginable developments in communication – what are the implications for children, for teachers and for us as leaders? How will we shape the future rather than letting it shape us?

Big issues; small issues. That’s what we deal with in education. And it’s what you’ll see in this edition of Leader as we celebrate our one hundredth issue. I hope you’ll find lots to inform, inspire and entertain you.

And I hope you’ll also do all you can to join us at our annual conference in March. It would be great to meet you in person and to talk more about the challenges and privilege of leadership in colleges and schools, and to hear more about how you feel ASCL is doing in our mission to serve you.

Seeing the big picture and dealing with the eventualities that life throws our way – this is the reality of leadership. And it’s why I hope you’ll see that at ASCL, we continue to aim to give you a full service of support.

ASCL Annual Conference 2018

9-10 March, ICC Birmingham
This year, our conference will explore the opportunities and responsibilities we have as school and college leaders to work in partnership with business and the community, to deliver the very best support and opportunities for our children and young people, now and into the future. Find out more and book your place online at

Geoff Barton
ASCL General Secretary