September 2010

The know zone

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  • Getting the best from staff
    As school budgets are squeezed, training and development can be one of the first things to go. More
  • Rolling up for academy rewards?
    The coalition government has invited all outstanding schools to become academies. Is it an opportunity to innovate for the good of all students? Or will it drain money from the system and leave other schools isolated? We asked ASCL members for their views. More
  • Leaders' surgery...
    The antidote to common leadership conundrums... More
  • An ever-changing landscape
    ASCL general secretary, Brian Lightman reflects on the changed world in which he will be operating and what it means for the association and its members. More
  • Captivating lessons
  • Lead vocals
    Quotes from John Lennon, Alexandra Stoddard, Bernard-Paul Heroux and Anita Roddick. More
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ASCL general secretary, Brian Lightman reflects on the changed world in which he will be operating and what it means for the association and its members.

An ever-changing landscape

The confirmation of my appointment back in January seems light years away. The world of education policy prior to the pre-election ‘wash up’ which swept away the school report card, the proposed ‘guarantees’ and so much more, was like a parallel universe. Since then, the coalition government has heralded a sea-change in policy and culture which will have far-reaching implications for ASCL members and for our education service as a whole.

No one visiting the renamed Department for Education can fail to notice the strong message conveyed by that title, the austere new logo which has replaced the rainbows or, if that is too subtle, the Victorian teacher’s desk swapped for the fancy coffee bar in the waiting area.

It is clear that the department and ministerial team intend to focus on core business, not prescriptive detail. Ministers have been busily stripping away many of the previous government’s centralised policies and structures and there has been a subtle change of vocabulary with words like ‘guidance’ and ‘delivery’ being replaced by references to ‘permissive legislation’. All of this has been accompanied by the new mantra ‘stop spending now’.

Challenges and opportunities

We are already seeing the effects. For example, the Academies Act embodies the desire to dismantle everything that restricts the power of school and college leaders to make decisions about how the services they provide are organised.

The act is designed to enable those schools that wish to become academies to do so, but it is down to their governing bodies and leadership teams to determine the precise detail of the new organisations’ ethos and structure. That brings challenges about the coherence of our education service as well as opportunities for it to be shaped by the profession.

The streamlining of post-16 funding arrangements is welcome, as is the simplification of the diploma structure, although uncertainty will continue to surround diplomas until ministers show more enthusiasm for this qualification and a greater understanding of vocational education. Other decisions have caused more concern.

The cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme (BSF) has enormous implications for those affected. The decision to abolish various quangos before establishing how their essential functions will be carried out is also an issue, as is the absence of detail to underpin policy decisions.

The obligation to work in partnership with other schools on behaviour and hard-to-place students has been abolished; the rushed agenda prior to the summer recess left little time for consultation with stakeholders.

In autumn we are going to see a packed government timetable with the next white paper following hot on the heels of the Academies Bill and the start of the most wide-ranging curriculum review for a generation. Underpinning everything will be the Comprehensive Spending Review which is certain to lead to unprecedented cutbacks.

Implications for ASCL

What does all of this mean for ASCL members, officers and your representatives?

First, we need to work out how we are going to operate in this new context. Having argued against the extent of detailed guidance and regulation, few ASCL members will shed a tear if their in-trays are not overloaded with the latest glossy publication.

Nevertheless, new freedom and autonomy return responsibility for many issues to us. Schools will have to consider which services they need to access and how their relationship with their LA and wider communities will be shaped. It all has implications for the kind of services and support you want ASCL to provide.

Second, the coalition government has not yet had time to develop a clear view about numerous policy issues. What will the ‘simplified’ curriculum look like? We have heard a lot about knowledge and very little about skills.

Where does that leave employers who are very clear about where their priorities lie? How will the ‘freeing up’ of the qualifications framework affect the National Curriculum? Will all of this give us the freedom to shape our curriculum as we, as professionals, see fit?

What does the coalition government think about technology? ASCL members have been very unhappy with many managed ICT projects under BSF, but we must ensure that the planning and procurement of ICT provides true value for money.

And what will a local authority look like in the future? How can it have a role in school improvement, as the Secretary of State indicated in his speech to the Local Government Association in July?

Third, the ASCL team and I are working hard to ensure that we continue to play a full part in helping ministers and officials to shape policy. It is early days and access to ministers has been understandably limited.

Nevertheless we have already been successful in ironing out some of the important issues around academy status regarding data transfer and removal of the requirement for business managers to be trained accountants.

The replacement of the Workforce Agreement Monitoring Group (WAMG) with a consultative body, called the Education Partnership, which meets every eight weeks raises important questions about how we will be consulted over the range of policy.

We are working with other unions to retain some of the best aspects of the collaboration which developed under WAMG and sent a letter to the Secretary of State signed by all of the classroom unions in July.

It was a really positive sign that the Secretary of State listened to our concerns about the proposed ‘cap’ on the pay of headteachers and is planning to ask the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) to consider the full implications. Nevertheless, there is still much to discuss about many other aspects of pay and conditions.

Fourth, we need to consider what external support individual schools and colleges will require in a world where the role of the LA will be significantly diminished. There are questions about consistency and variability across the system. How can we avoid fragmentation and what will system leadership look like in this context?

Protecting frontline resources

One of ASCL’s great strengths is our national Council which sets our public policy agenda and ensures it is grounded in the reality of leading schools and colleges. Council will be debating all of these issues in the autumn and your representatives will be happy to feed in your views and ideas.

Our manifesto will continue to drive our discussions with ministers. Top of the list is ensuring that the promise of protecting frontline resources is kept. Another major area will be the principle of a national framework with local flexibility with relation to autonomy.

We need to ensure that the welcome increase in school and college autonomy includes incentives to help and support each other and to take collective responsibility for the education of all of the young people in our area.

I know my work is cut out and I am looking forward immensely to the challenge of serving you. One of the keys to ASCL’s success is that we always try to offier solutions to even the most intractable problems and we will continue to do this. These solutions are based not only in the reality of school and college life, but are firmly rooted in the values that have long underpinned our work as an association.

One of my first priorities is to meet all of our excellent team of staff and take stock of the association’s current state of development. I am also very much looking forward to the information conferences and other opportunities to meet many of you. I want to hear what you want from ASCL.

You can email me at: and my tweets will keep you informed about current issues. I promise to listen.

Woman holding map