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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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.

Challenges - and opportunities

As the end of a tumultuous school year approaches here are some reflections on what we may expect during the next one. There will be two key developments, the first of which is the vast amount of simultaneously implemented change beginning in September.

  • Performance-related pay will affect teachers’ wage-packets for the first time as decisions about pay progression are made.
  • Reductions in post-16 funding will make the curriculum in many schools and colleges look very different with larger class sizes and hard decisions about which subjects to offer taking effect. 
  • Officially, the new National Curriculum comes into place. In reality there are big questions about what impact that will have on Key Stage 3 in most secondary schools beyond the core subjects. Nevertheless, all schools need to look carefully at their current offer and they will need to decide how they are going to assess progress through Key Stages 3 and 4 up to the ‘big bang’ final examinations. Heads of maths and English, in particular, need to think about how they plan for a long transitional period during which each cohort of Year 7 pupils will arrive with different degrees of coverage of the old and new curricula. All of this will have CPD implications, requiring a planned and coordinated approach.
  • At the upper end of secondary school, however, changes to qualifications at all levels will require substantial changes to schemes of work and the way we prepare students for linear exams. We are still waiting for many details of these qualifications, which is delaying the start of work. 
  • Finally, there are the special educational needs (SEN) changes requiring statements to be turned into health and care plans.

Of course, all of this goes alongside changes that are already underway, including inspection arrangements and changes to accountability measures and careers guidance. Briefing, training and quality preparation time for teachers alongside communication with parents, employers and not least the students about the implications and practicalities of all of these, are all major tasks.

Students first

Irrespective of their individual views, school and college leaders know that they have to make these policies work in the interests of their students, however challenging that may be. ASCL has been doing everything it can to help, including:

  • publication of briefings and guidance
  • workshops and conferences, including a series of major curriculum conferences in the autumn in addition to the usual programme of information conferences
  • bespoke training and consultancy provided by our expert team in a large number of schools and colleges
  • ongoing discussion of all of the above with officials in the Department for Education (DfE), Ofsted, Ofqual and other government departments

In addition to meetings between ASCL officers and officials, who understand the magnitude of the tasks you face, we have participated in collective talks with all of the unions and the DfE about policy implementation. These have led to a number of reviews and specific actions, including a survey of school leaders to see what they identify as the key areas where they feel under-prepared for these changes. This will be a helpful way of identifying what additional support is required.None of us can be under any illusions about the degree of challenge this entails. Yet there are also many opportunities.The lack of prescription affords us considerable flexibility to incorporate into our curriculum what we think is important. Although qualifi cations are being used by the government to drive practice we know that they do not tell the whole story. The curriculum needs to be so much more than that.Although there is still a very long way to go, the changing climate of inspection is beginning to enable us to be the agents of accountability ourselves, rather than waiting for Ofsted to pass judgement. Strong, robust self-evaluation, which demonstrates the impact of our leadership and the decisions we have made, will underpin such an approach.We also have full autonomy to lead and manage professional development in our schools and colleges. It is up to us to design coordinated programmes providing opportunities for all staff to update their specialist knowledge, undertake research and learn from colleagues.

Election time looms

The second distinguishing factor this year is, of course, the general election, the proximity of which has been very evident for many months.

In some respects, this process affects school and college leaders less directly as they continue with the day job. However, the outcome and the policies that may follow most certainly will, so engagement in that process to exert as much infl uence as possible must remain a very high priority for ASCL.

Between now and next May we can expect each party to be trying to demonstrate how its policies differ from those of the others as it sets out its stall and prepares to publish its manifesto.

ASCL has already been in intense discussion with all three parties as we try to help shape policies in the interests of our members and the students in their care.

Having launched our manifesto at the ASCL Annual Conference an election strategy group has been coordinating a wide range of activities to engage with all three parties. These include:

  • a strong presence at all three party conferences, hosting fringe meetings and participating in the range of events related to education policy
  • numerous speaking engagements at policy events
  • meetings with key advisers in all three parties who are involved in developing policies and manifestos
  • preparation of briefing papers for each party about specific topics that are subject to policy development, including Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and professional development and school and college funding; we are also developing a major policy paper on the self-improving, school-led system that will cover issues such as what any middle tier may look like
  • participation in roundtable events about specific topics 

At national level, therefore, we have ample opportunity to ensure that our voice is being heard loud and clear. To complement that locally we need your help.

Please invite your prospective candidates into school to discuss what they plan to do about the issues that matter to you and that we have highlighted in our manifesto and briefings or policy documents. It is crucial to discuss any issues you want to see included in the party manifestos at an early opportunity and it is equally crucial that we ensure that all prospective candidates have a chance to see what schools and colleges are really like and gain a first-hand insight into the issues that matter.

The Great Education Debate has been highly influential in feeding thoughts from a range of different perspectives into this process. So, for example, we have seen a welcome broadening of the discourse on the purpose of education away from what had felt like a very narrow and polarised focus – particularly when the curriculum was under discussion.

To me, however, one issue that needs to underpin every single policy remains at the top of my wish list: it is the need for a culture change away from a deficit model driven by the centre towards one that recognises that, for our very good education service to become even better, any future government will need to work in partnership with the profession in a climate of trust.

Even the best policy will fail without that.

Brian Lightman is ASCL General Secretary.