2019 Autumn Term 2


  • A solid foundation
    Good schools are built on good teachers, but we face a severe shortage of teachers says Sam Sims, Research Fellow at UCL Institute of Education (IOE). Here, he explains the thinking around a new collaboration between ASCL and IOE to help with teachers' job satisfaction and retention. More
  • Getting educators on board
    Supporting another school or trust by joining its governing board offers a fantastic professional development opportunity for school leaders says Dominic Judge from Education and Employers. More
  • Smoke & mirrors?
    The long-awaited government spending round has been and gone, but what does it actually mean for your school? Is the government finally addressing the funding shortages in education, or just hiding behind a smokescreen? Here ASCL Funding Specialist, Julia Harnden, talks us through the detail. More
  • Change makers
    Gohar Khan, Director of Ethos at Didcot Girls' School in Oxford, shares her school's desire to create the next generation of female leaders. More
  • All in the mind
    Ruby Wax made her name as a writer and comedian but, in recent years, has become a vocal advocate for mental health and will give a keynote speech at ASCL's Annual Conference in 2020. She spoke to Julie Nightingale. More
  • Diverse thinking
    We need leaders and governors to reflect a society and a school population that is diverse and varied, and be all the richer for it says Geoff Barton. Here he highlights how we can all help to make that change. More
  • Our united vision
    This is the first in a new regular update in Leader to provide you with the latest information from our colleagues across the nation. ASCL is proud to represent school and college leaders from all over the UK. More
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We need leaders and governors to reflect a society and a school population that is diverse and varied, and be all the richer for it says Geoff Barton. Here he highlights how we can all help to make that change. 

Diverse Thinking

"It’s time,” says this year’s ASCL President, Rachael Warwick, “to put our own house in order.” Speaking to The Guardian newspaper, alongside black headteacher and newly elected ASCL Council member, Evelyn Forde, Rachael outlined something that is much more than an annual conference theme. It’s a call-to-arms for the teaching profession, starting with ASCL itself.

The aim is to proceed in a spirit of bravery and humility, recognising that people like me – white, middleaged, middle-class – have a shared responsibility, plus influence, to help ensure that the young people in our schools and colleges increasingly see people who don’t just look like me.

Time for self-reflection

This is no rhetorical mission. We aren’t just going to talk about the issue. That’s why our starting point has been to look at ourselves, to hold a mirror up to ASCL – its staff, its Council, its Executive members – and take stock of where we are and where we need to be when it comes to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). This is an exciting moment in ASCL’s development. Just as our work on ‘The Forgotten Third’ (see www.ascl.org.uk/ForgottenThird) stayed true to our mantra of ‘speaking on behalf of members; acting on behalf of children and young people’, our emphasis on EDI will aim to provide practical resources and outcomes for members.

That will include some background reading. Just as our Forgotten Third report echoed the stark sense of social polarisation described by David Goodhart in his book The Road to Somewhere: The populist revolt and the future of politics, so the themes we are focusing on are brilliantly illuminated in Matthew Syed’s latest book, Rebel Ideas: The power of diverse thinking.

As in his previous works – Black Box Thinking: Marginal gains and the secrets of high performance and Bounce: The myth of talent and the power of practice – Syed writes like a dream, weaving stories and theories into a compelling thesis. Diversity, he teaches us, shouldn’t be seen as some optional extra in an organisation. It should be seen as an essential ingredient in raising performance.

Through a series of examples, he shows how the age we live in requires diverse groups to work and think collaboratively. 

If we fail to do this, we fail to embrace opportunities and solve problems. Thus, he shows how the pre-2001 US intelligence agencies were so insular, so disconnected from the changing global situation, that they failed to spot a growing source of terrorism.

He shows how sport increasingly recognises the way people from different backgrounds can help a coach to harness the team’s talents. He shows how – counter-intuitively – the larger the university you attend, the less likely you are to encounter people of different backgrounds – and why this matters.

He shows, fundamentally, that leadership in our era will necessitate the richness that comes from having around the table different perspectives from divergent backgrounds, without which we will merely replicate the problems of the past. Here’s how Syed explains it: “With homogeneous groups people tend to get stuck in the same place. Diverse teams, on the other hand, come up with fresh insights, helping them to become unstuck. Rebel ideas are effectively firing the collective imagination.”

He quotes the psychologist Charlan Nemeth: “Minority viewpoints are important, not because they tend to prevail but because they stimulate divergent attention and thought.

As a result, even when they are wrong, they contribute to the detection of novel solutions that, on balance, are qualitatively better.”

I like all this. It means that the stuff on the margins – the people and their ideas too easily dismissed or trivialised – suddenly move centre stage and play key roles.

Our philosophy

You’ll see us taking that philosophy and doing all we can to put it into action through what we do and what we say, placing equalities, diversity and inclusion at the heart of ASCL’s philosophy.

But that ‘rebel ideas’ theme also shows in our policy work. We’re not a think tank, one of those many organisations comprising people who once worked directly in education but who now think and talk about it. You – our members – are actively doing education.

You’re still in the thick of it.

That gives us an opportunity to make sure that when we respond to the latest proposals on, say, curriculum planning or accountability, we can road test those ideas with the people who will have to implement them. And, much more significantly, we can shift out of being passive, of feeling that our key role is merely responding rather than pacesetting.

Levers of change

And that’s where our work for the year ahead will take us. In addition to ‘The Forgotten Third’ mission to rethink the qualification system at GCSE so that every child has the chance to demonstrate meaningful achievement in English (and then in maths), we will be revisiting the ground-breaking ASCL blueprint – Leading the Way: A blueprint for a self-improving system? – published more than four years ago (see www.ascl.org.uk/blueprint).

It will set out what levers of change might be needed to improve education in the UK. In the meantime, much has changed, with Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and England seeing very different approaches to accountability, inspection and funding. There is much to learn from each. And there is much to do across the whole UK where the success of a young person from a disadvantaged background still, too often, is defined by their postcode. So, in revisiting the blueprint, we’ll ask: where next? What do leaders in education need to do next in the name of genuine social justice that ensures that every child from every background has the same access to opportunities and success for their later life?

This is a glimpse of what we believe a 21st-century trade union should be doing: providing first-rate support for members when you need us, responding to and commenting on new proposals from government and others. But we should do much more than see our role as merely responding to the ideas of others. We should set the agenda, harnessing the power of rebel ideas to develop convergent, workable suggestions that, on behalf of children, young people, our staff and communities, show that our standards and expectations are higher and more ambitious than those of any education minister. That’s the power of diverse thinking.

“With homogeneous groups people tend to get stuck in the same place. Diverse teams, on the other hand, come up with fresh insights, helping them to become unstuck.”

Matthew Syed

Geoff Barton
ASCL General Secretary