August 2018


  • And breathe...
    Geoff Barton reflects on what has been another extremely busy year for school and college leaders, and says the summer will hopefully, for many, be a time to unwind with family and friends. More
  • Stress less
    As we continuously strive to improve and support the wellbeing of our pupils, we mustn't forget to ensure the health and welfare of our staff too, says Trust Director Julie Yarwood. More
  • Social media: Enjoy, engage or avoid?
    Whether you're developing a social media strategy for your school or college, reviewing existing policies, or managing your own online presence, Online Editor Sally Jack provides advice to help you navigate the social media maelstrom. More
  • Make the news
    By telling their story and knowing how to respond to bad news, schools and colleges can build a successful relationship with the media which can be a huge benefit to them, says ASCL's Head of Public Relations Richard Bettsworth. More
  • Free for all?
    New research from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and the Sutton Trust has found that pupils at secondary free schools perform slightly better than pupils at other types of schools, but is that the only thing we should judge them on? Karen Wespieser looks at the data. More
  • Pioneer programme
    The NPQEL programme offers multi-academy trust leaders a roadmap for leadership in this challenging new territory. Julie Nightingale reports. More
Bookmark and Share

Geoff Barton reflects on what has been another extremely busy year for school and college leaders, and says the summer will hopefully, for many, be a time to unwind with family and friends.

And breathe...

There Ė youíve more or less made it. Itís the finale of another year with the frantic mix of end-of-term activities that the season entails, the emotional roller coaster of pupil and staff farewells, the need to hide our inner sense of bone-deep exhaustion and the sheer determination to cling on until a well-deserved summer break finally arrives. Well done. The summerís almost here.

For some of our members, this will have been a year of turmoil. Far, far too many members of leadership teams have found themselves managing another round of staff restructuring or, more bleakly, found themselves being restructured.

For other ASCL members, this may be the end of your first year as the member of a leadership team, and youíll be wanting to reflect on what went well and lessons learnt for next year. And youíll need to get time switching off, throwing yourself into life beyond education with family and friends.

In a heartbeat

For me, itís been a year in which Iíve finally begun to adjust to the very different rhythms of life beyond school leadership. I guess I hadnít realised just how much the underpinning pattern of routines gets into the bloodstream across 32 years Ė the terms, the half-terms, the exam seasons, the staff briefings, the regular assemblies Ė the, well, the everything that we take for granted about life in school and college.

This is the pulse of our education system, the daily, weekly, termly non-negotiables that give a shape to our professional lives. Itís taken me a while to adjust. So when my wife said to me last weekend, ďWhat were you doing last week?Ē it made me realise just how many people Iíd met and listened to, and of the things that Iíd written, and places that Iíd visited.

And, in doing so, prompted me to realise once again what a privilege my role as general secretary is. For example, with members of our presidential team, I get to have regular meetings with the politicians and officials who oversee our whole education system Ė in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

On the day I am writing this, for example, Iíve been in Wales, listening to the brilliant ASCL Cymru team hold a candid discussion with the Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams, about curriculum, accountability and Ė of course Ė funding. In each part of the United Kingdom, issues are both very different and very similar.

In this role, I get to meet, listen to and try to influence the people who hold the levers of power, the people supposedly in charge. But what makes that so fascinating, and I hope adds authenticity to my role, is that I spend a lot of time meeting school and college leaders in person. So, in the past few weeks Iíve been to East Sussex, the West Midlands, Durham, Lincolnshire and Staffordshire, meeting senior leaders from schools and colleges.

At each meeting, Iíve deployed a deliberate PowerPoint-free approach. You donít want me to come and inflict a presentation on you. Instead, these closed sessions give us a chance, as leaders of our nationís education system, as guardians of our young people, to have an open discussion on the issues that matter most to you.

Nothing matters more to me than these sessions because they enable me, in meetings with ministers, to utter phrases like, ďWith respect, minister, hereís what our members in Staffordshire tell me is the reality of that policy ÖĒ

And as I finish the year, what strikes me is that some issues are very much as we would expect. Thereís funding, and a growing determination to explain more publicly the terrible choices that leaders are having to make. Thereís teacher recruitment and retention, with a particular frustration that the government seems as in denial on this issue as it seems about funding.

But in some ways, the most interesting discussions are around issues that once were on the margins and now are moving centre stage: worries about the mental health of our children and the pressures on our staff; frustration with an accountability regime that doesnít capture what we think matters most in schools; the sidelining of the arts; and a feeling that the joy of teaching, and the privilege of leadership, have been sidelined by recent reforms.

What I sense, suddenly and importantly, is a desire to shift from victims in all of this to the creators of our own destiny. That, after all, was always the promise Ė that this would be the brave new world of system leadership, not system managerialism.


And thatís why I end this year far more heartened by what Iíve seen and heard over the past six months Ė a determination to put in place a curriculum thatís right for the children we teach in the communities we lead; an increasing collective strength to challenge the narrow measurements of education; and a general sense that as the current generation of school and college leaders, we wonít want our educational legacy to be parochial, inward-looking and unambitious. For all the tough times, I hear leadership that wants to be empowered to step up and lead the way.

So, as your term ends, and holidays begin to promise some time to relax, I hope youíll make some space to unwind, to switch off, to try to leave the worries behind. The UK education system Ė in its various forms in different places Ė is in far better shape than the media would have us believe. We know there are intractable issues. But what I have seen across the past year is young people being encouraged to learn, to reflect, to develop their leadership, to prepare to step eventually into adult life and to do all of this in schools and colleges that many parts of the world look on with envy.

This hasnít happened by accident. Itís happened because of people like you. Enjoy a well-earned break.

So, as your term ends and holidays begin to promise some time to relax, I hope youíll make some space to unwind, to switch off, to try to leave the worries behind.

Geoff Barton
ASCL General Secretary