July 2014


  • Challenges - and opportunities
    Brian Lightman looks ahead to some of the changes facing school and college leaders from September in what promise s to be another turbulent academic year. More
  • Capital Ideas
    With the general election less than a year a away, now is the time to start tackling MPs about their party's policy on education. Leora Cruddas sets out the questions politicians need to address if they are serious about securing long-term, sustainable improvement for our schools and colleges. More
  • Collaborative Leadership
    A record number of school and college business leaders gathered in June for the 2014 ASCL Business Management Conference, to hear the very latest on a range of priority issues via a series of keynote speakers and to engage in some practical workshops and open debate about the changing role of business management professionals. More
  • Sensitive Challenge
    Dorothy Lepkowska reports on how one school is raising awareness among pupils of the threat of female genital mutilation (FGM). More
  • More than bins and bells
    Invited to participate in the Great Education Debate (GED), Peter Kent's students had some frank views on the flaws in the education system - and, in particular, why young people need more than good academic grades to equip them for adult life. More
  • Inspiring their future
    Close links with employers can pay dividends for schools and colleges in terms of introducing young people to the working world and to the skills and qualities that will make them employable in the future, as Karleeen Dowden explains. More
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With the general election less than a year a away, now is the time to start tackling MPs about their party’s policy on education.  Leora Cruddas sets out the questions politicians need to address if they are serious about securing long-term, sustainable improvement for our schools and colleges.

Capital Ideas

While it is unlikely that the 2015 general election will be won or lost on the basis of education policy, an education system that enables all young people to succeed is fundamental to the wellbeing of our nation so must be a national priority.

This was the message to all political parties of ASCL's election manifesto, launched at our annual conference in March. For our education system to continue to improve there must be sustainable education policy and sustainable change.

Sustainability, values and purpose

Michael Fullan (Fullan, M, 2005, Leadership and Sustainability: System thinker in action, Corwin) says that sustainability is the capacity of a system to engage with the complexities of continuous improvement consistent with deep values of human purpose. Our manifesto is deliberately values-based and starts with a statement of belief:
The core purpose of education must be to develop in our young people the skills, qualities, knowledge and qualifications that will prepare them for work and life. It is driven by seven principles that we think create the conditions for sustainable education policy. We believe that:

  1. An excellent education that enables all young people to succeed is a top national priority. 
  2. Intelligent resourcing is critical to further improvement.
  3. Devolved decision-making, coupled with intelligent accountability, will result in better outcomes for young people.
  4. It is essential to recruit the best leaders and teachers and continue to develop them throughout their careers.
  5. We must act together to narrow the gaps in educational attainment.
  6. Curriculum, assessment, qualifications and accountability must be aligned.
  7. Now is the time to build pedagogical capacity.

We are working with each political party to consider how these statements can be interpreted in the context of sustainable policy and sustainable change.

For example, we have advised that the Labour Party endorse the proposals set out in the blueprint for the College of Teaching proposed by The Prince's Teaching Institute (PTI). It is proposed that the College of Teaching is established as an independent professional body for teachers. Its principles would be setting standards, enhancing professional development and informing professional practice, standards and policy with evidence. Membership would be voluntary and would signal and embody commitment to personal professional development. A tiered membership structure is proposed and members would progress through the tiers from associate, to member, to fellow. Progression through the tiers would be managed by a process of rigorous and transparent certification.

We are suggesting to the Labour Party that they build on the expectation of re-validation through the proposed College's certification system. We strongly support the idea that membership of the College of Teaching would be voluntary. We do not believe that a prospective government should require teachers to have their skills re-validated.

We have advised the Liberal Democrats on their proposal for individual continuing professional development (CPD) plans and personal budgets, emphasising that professional development should be an integral part of the performance management process. We do not think it would be wise to require a CPD plan as an additional bureaucratic burden.

Besides our ongoing dialogue with the Secretary of State and his team, we are also attempting to make inroads into and seek to influence the Conservative Party policy-making process directly.

Vision and direction

We know that the countries with the most successful education systems have a clear vision and direction that is widely understood. We are, therefore, calling on all political parties to commit to developing a long-term shared vision for education with school and college leaders and with the wider profession. 

We do not believe that education should be taken out of the political cycle; it is hard to imagine an activity more central to public life than the education of our young people and it is right that our politicians are accountable for its outcomes. But the proper role for government, in our view, is to set a vision and direction for our education system that will enable it to improve continuously.

Capacity building and continuous improvement

If the role for government is to set vision and direction and step back from micro-managing, then the profession must step forward. Since mid-2010, when David Hargreaves published the first of his influential think pieces on a self-improving system, we have been talking about a school-led system. In November that year, The Importance of Teaching: The schools white paper 2010, said: "The primary responsibility for improvement rests with our schools... Our aim should be to create a school system that is self-improving"

The thrust of reforms of the past few years, beginning with the previous Labour administration, has been to take us towards an autonomous and self-improving system. The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) has been re-cast and is seen by government as a key implementation body.

However, as an executive body of the Department for Education, it does not make sense for the College to lead this drive. Government cannot deliver a school-led system only the profession can. A key part of our election strategy, therefore, is a project to consider what the drivers are for a school-led system.

Leora Cruddas is ASCL Director of Policy.

Questions to use with your local MP

ASCL is calling for cross-party political support for a long-term vision for education.

  • What does your party believe is the role of government in creating a coherent vision for education? If elected, how will your party go about delivering this and over what timescale?
  • What are your party’s long-term priorities for education?
  • How have you or will you work with the profession to ensure these priorities have professional support?

On intelligent resourcing 

School and college leaders support a national funding formula. However, a ‘simple’ formula could create new inequalities.

  • Is your party committed to introducing a national funding formula that is equitable at the point of delivery? 
  • There are likely to be winners and losers in any move towards a national funding formula. Therefore, we believe any future government will need to stage the transition to a national funding formula carefully. How would your party manage this process? 
  • We have modelled education budgets for schools and colleges over the next few years. We are fast approaching the point where cost pressures will result in institutional failure. What will your party do to protect education budgets and invest at a sustainable level? 
  • How will you address the urgent issue of sufficient school places in areas of need?
  • What are your plans for capital investment and will you commit to transparency?

On autonomy and accountability 

ASCL supports decision making being devolved as close to learners as possible. Alongside this, we recognise the need, in a largely autonomous education landscape, for strong, intelligent, public accountability that encourages and enables further improvement. 

  • What is your party’s definition of autonomy and how will you enable and encourage schools and colleges to use their freedoms to the advantage of all students? 
  • How will you ensure that Ofsted inspections are better focused and more proportionate to need? And what is the future for Ofsted? 
  • In performance tables, will you commit to ensuring that progress, rather than raw attainment, is the prime measure of schools’ effectiveness?

On teacher professionalism

Motivated, skilled and professional leaders and teachers are of crucial importance to securing further improvements. 

  • There have been significant changes to teacher performance management that schools need time to embed. Will your party commit to this?
  • How will your party address the crucial issue of teacher supply in shortage subjects?
  • How will your party help the profession to ensure that all teachers have access to high-quality continuing professional development?
  • What are your party’s ideas for attracting strong leadership and strong teachers into schools in challenging circumstances, especially those outside the main metropolitan areas where there is entrenched social deprivation?

How you can get involved

If you would like to get involved with influencing party policy in the lead-in to the election process, one way is to invite your MP to meet with you in your school or college. A member of ASCL's presidential trio or one of the officers would be happy to brief you and, if it would be helpful, meet your MP with you.

To request a briefing, email election2015@ascl.org.uk We would also be grateful for feedback following the meeting to help inform our election strategy. A form can be downloaded online at www.ascl.org.uk/ resources/ascl-manifesto-response-proforma

Read ASCL's manifesto in full online at: www.ascl.org.uk/manifesto2014