June 2018


  • Back to the future
    Geoff Barton says it's important we look to the future of education but in doing so, we mustn't ignore the significant challenges we face at present. More
  • Smarter learning
    Artificial intelligence (AI) has the power to transform learning by drawing on a range of data to pinpoint each child's specific learning needs as they work. Education needs to embrace it, says CEO of a school improvement platform Priya Lakhani OBE. More
  • A step in the right direction
    ASCL has campaigned for fair education funding for over 30 years. Here, former President Peter Downes highlights key moments from our quest and says, although the proposed new formula isn't perfect, ASCL and its members can be proud that the principle for which it has campaigned has been accepted. More
  • Keep your head
    One ASCL member shares his experience of going through the redundancy process and says he can't speak highly enough of the help he was given by ASCL when he needed it most. More
  • Is the grass greener?
    Why are so many teachers leaving the profession? Jack Worth, Senior Economist at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), looks at the latest research. More
  • Changing the narrative
    ASCL PD Associate, Carly Waterman, explains how collaboration could help change the narrative of the recruitment and retention problem in schools and colleges. More
Bookmark and Share

Geoff Barton says its important we look to the future of education but in doing so, we mustnt ignore the significant challenges we face at present.

Back to the future

The American baseball player Yogi Berra had a certain way with words. Its thanks to him that we got the saying, Its like dj vu all over again. He clearly had a way with numbers, too, once quipping, You better cut the pizza in four pieces because Im not hungry enough to eat six.

But on one thing he was most definitely right: Its tough to make predictions especially about the future. Quite.

In this edition of Leader we look to the future, but without overlooking the significant challenges we face in the present.

Time travelling

First, back to the future. Once every term, ASCLs President and I have a keeping-in-touch meeting with each of the various members of the ministerial team at the DfE. These are a chance to discuss insights, make suggestions on policy and to share the views and concerns of our members.

Back in February, with Damian Hinds newly appointed as Secretary of State for Education, Carl Ward and I held our first meeting with him. And the minister said something in passing that has resonated with me ever since. So is it only in the world of education, he quipped, where adding computer technology has added to rather than decreasing workload?

Its a good point. After all, computers were always supposed to make life easier for humans, werent they? So the computer behind our car dashboard will now do all those things we once did ourselves when driving faffing with a choke, changing the temperature, switching on lights and windscreen wipers, giving us directions. Now, in theory at least, we just drive.

Yet in our schools and colleges, it can feel as if computers have simply added to our pressures. There is, of course, the tyranny of email that can render us feeling helplessly at the mercy of people who could have spoken to us in person, or telephoned us, but now send an email and copy in a dozen others, too.

Theres the heavy emphasis we give to using data, deploying computers to track, monitor and predict how our pupils will perform, what interventions they have experienced and where the gaps are.

Then there are various systems we use to share information with one another, with pupils, with parents and carers. All of it involves work.

Pioneering technology

Thats why we are so interested in the work of the indefatigable Priya Lakhani and her team at CENTURY Tech. They are doing pioneering work that uses computers to make our life as teachers simpler, to make our impact greater.

Using artificial intelligence (AI), the computer can now monitor each pupils learning. It can set new questions based on what the pupil can or cant do. It gives instant feedback. It can increase or lower the level of challenge. It provides the teacher with essential insights into a childs progress. Most significantly, it frees the teacher up to be well, the teacher.

And that, I suspect, will be a defining feature of the future of teaching robots doing all that routine stuff that robots do so well, enabling teachers to focus on what we humans excel in showing empathy, giving nuanced explanation, working in teams and being human.

You can read Priyas fascinating account here. Its part of an interest we have at ASCL based on the question, What if? Were determined not just to react to the present, but to aim to shape the future.

Because, as I said in my speech at our Annual Conference in March, its too easy for us to get locked into the day-to-day rhythms and expectations of our work in schools and colleges and not get time to lift our eyes to the bigger horizon.

Thats why, through our professional development events, through our publications and through our policy work and Council, ASCL will continue to aim to shape the debate about education, asking bigger questions and, on behalf of our children and young people, making sure we are helping to give them an optimistic future.

We need to do the same for teachers, too. With the significant increase in pupil numbers working through society, we are going to need more teachers a lot more. The TES calculation is that by 2024, in the UK we will need wait for it 47,000 more teachers. Read more about the challenges and opportunities of teacher recruitment and retention in the piece by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) here.

The present time

Meanwhile, here in the present, Im deeply aware that times have rarely been tougher for many educational leaders. Im drafting this article in East Sussex where Ive been hearing from headteachers about the swingeing cuts they are having to make as the funding pressures worsen.

The result, of course, isnt just about bigger class sizes and fewer courses, damaging as the consequences of those can be. Its also about social mobility and entitlement, of children not getting to experience the range and richness of provision that we used to consider their birth right.

Thus, we are seeing the squeezing of creative subjects and a deeply disturbing decline in modern foreign languages (MFL) provision. Arts subjects, PE and MFL have been proudly at the heart of education for generations, and its clear that now in too many contexts they are fighting for survival.

As Picasso put it, Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. Well be doing all we can to retain that soul, to protect the kind of broad, principled curriculum provision that the next generation of young people should experience.

So, in addition to continuing to support the campaign to unlock more Treasury funding, ASCL will also focus more directly on building a coalition with governors and parents. We need to harness their concerns, as taxpayers and (crucially) voters, so that politicians are more sharply aware of the devastating effect the funding crisis is now having.

After all, parents and carers of all backgrounds believe that their children should be entitled to the same quality of teaching, curriculum and pastoral care that, as leaders, we have proudly delivered for generations. As Yogi Berra quite rightly said, It aint over till its over.

Its too easy for us to get locked into the day-to-day rhythms and expectations of our work in schools and colleges and not get time to lift our eyes to the bigger horizon.

Geoff Barton
ASCL General Secretary