August 2017


  • Leading thoughts
    Geoff Barton reflects on his journey meeting hundreds of school and college leaders since taking up the role of ASCL General Secretary three months ago. More
  • School heroes
    Character and resilience education helps pupils to develop important life skills says former Headteacher Ben Slade. Here he highlights a new programme being delivered by ex-service personnel in schools. More
  • Be prepared
    Recent incidents in Manchester and London affected everyone, including many of our own pupils and staff, says Headteacher Richard Sheriff. Here he highlights what leaders can do to prepare for such instances. More
  • Sense and accountability
    ASCL’s Primary and Governance Specialist Julie McCulloch on the current problems with primary assessment and the launch of a new ASCL-led independent review of primary accountability. More
  • Keeping your head
    Reassuringly, new research from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has found that retention of headteachers in the education system is about 90%. However, there is still work to be done, as this figure does appear to be declining over time says NFER’s Karen Wespieser. More
  • Education post-brexit
    What should education look like in a post-Brexit Britain? Here ASCL Director of Policy Leora Cruddas explores the future of our education system. More
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What should education look like in a post-Brexit Britain? Here ASCL Director of Policy Leora Cruddas explores the future of our education system.

Education post-brexit

When ASCL consulted with you, our members, about the fifth of our education manifesto priorities for the 2017 General Election, you voted overwhelmingly to ask all political parties to pledge to develop a long-term, shared vision for education. (See the manifesto online:

Whatever we believe personally about leaving the European Union (EU), the time is right for our leaders – educators, politicians, business men and women and other leaders across the spectrum – to come together to do just that.

Of course, this in part relies on our wider vision for the kind of country we wish to become once we have left the European Union.

World-class education system

However, our aspiration must surely be to build the best education system in the world. And we should define educational success not in the narrow sense of exam outcomes (although this is important) – our aspiration must be to develop young people who are prepared for life, career and citizenship.

In the words of the far-sighted panel that led the National Curriculum Review, education should develop knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes to satisfy economic, cultural, social, personal and environmental goals. Our vision for the role that education should play must surely include that it should:

  • satisfy future economic needs for individuals and for the workforce as a whole, including the development of secure knowledge and skills in communication, literacy and mathematics and confidence in acquiring new knowledge and skills
  • appreciate the national cultures, traditions and values of all the nations within the UK, while Brexit recognising diversity and encouraging responsible citizenship
  • provide opportunities for participation in a broad range of educational experiences and the acquisition of knowledge and appreciation in the arts, sciences and humanities, and of high academic and vocational qualification at the end of compulsory schooling
  • support personal development and empowerment so that each pupil is able to develop as a healthy, balanced and self-confident individual, and fulfil their education potential
  • promote understanding of sustainability in the stewardship of resources locally, nationally and globally (

The Massachusetts Story

Drawing inspiration from the work done by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (, we should bring together educators, politicians, business people and other leaders in a broad-based alliance to begin this work now. There is, as Massachusetts said, a new opportunity to lead.

This will involve moving beyond the tedious debates of today: autonomy or accountability, teachers or technology, English Baccalaureate (EBacc) or a broad curriculum, planning or choice, to name a few. We must embrace and rise above contraries and dichotomies. As poet William Blake said: “Without contraries, is no progression.”

We must be more ambitious in our scope and wider in our horizons and we must gaze further into the future. We must paint on a bigger, global canvas in order to solve the challenges we face as a nation and, more importantly, anticipate those our young people will face tomorrow.

Massachusetts started with a survey of employers about how the education system needed to change. From this and other data, the Alliance identified six gaps – the challenges facing the education system. These will be no surprise and strongly resonate with the challenges facing the UK:

  1. The Employability Gap – the gap between what the economy demands and what the school system produces.
  2. The Knowledge Gap – the gap between what a 21st-century citizen needs to know and what graduates of the school system actually know.
  3. The Achievement Gap – the gap in achievement between students as a whole and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
  4. The Opportunity Gap – the gap in opportunity to succeed between the children of the well-off and the children of low-income families.
  5. The Global Gap – the gap between the performance of the education system and those in the top-performing education systems in the world.
  6. The Top Talent Gap – the gap between top-performing students and top-performing students in the best-performing education systems in the world.

Finally, they identified a plateau: it could be argued perhaps that these six gaps would not be quite such a major problem if the education system in Massachusetts was continuing to make rapid progress in improving overall performance and narrowing gaps. But it was not. And neither is ours.

Their solution was to build a shared vision of whole-system reform, systemic innovation and effective implementation.

Whole-system vision and whole-system reform

We already have a compelling vision of a school-led, self-improving system in ASCL’s Blueprint for a Self-Improving System ( Published before the General Election in 2015, it was publicly endorsed by all three (then) major political parties.

But in 2017, we find ourselves in a half-reformed system without a clear political direction. The threats to the system are significant in terms of fiscal restraint, real-terms funding cuts and teacher shortages. Then there are our big strategic gaps, probably very similar to those in Massachusetts. And finally, Brexit.

As we said in the blueprint, we want a system in which all children and young people achieve regardless of economic background or perceived intelligence. This is now an economic imperative.

We need to make the self-improving, school-led system real by securing the conditions for the new landscape of groups of schools to drive their own destiny and set in motion a virtuous circle of innovation, performance enhancement and further innovation that over time will solve problems we don’t even know we face.

ASCL believes that the only way to address the many challenges and threats in our education system is to establish a powerful alliance – educators, politicians from across the spectrum, community and other leaders – to develop a whole-system vision and take forward whole-system reform over the next ten or twenty years. We must describe the end-state of our half-reformed education system – and then move confidently in this direction.

Let’s move away from government determined White Papers towards policy making that is shared and co-constructed. Deep and sustained reform of our education system must come from a broad-based alliance and a long-term shared vision. We must move away from central prescription to a profession-led system that is evidence-informed, innovative and ethical.

Leora Cruddas is ASCL Director of Policy and Public Relations