June 2016


  • Game theory
    Schools and colleges can learn lessons about leadership, trust and making the most of opportunities from the way that our elite sports teams are run, says Malcolm Trobe. More
  • The diamond standard
    ASCL Specialist Suzanne O’Farrell offers top tips to help schools inject more challenge into the curriculum and ensure that the latest wave of reforms translates into higher standards. More
  • A champion for wellbeing
    Amid growing concern over student mental health, one school has taken the radical step of bringing a doctor on board, as Assistant Headteacher Janet Goodliffe explains. More
  • The details man
    The new Foundation for Leadership in Education will play a vital role in ensuring that heads are equipped and ready to drive the next phase of reform, says Sir Michael Barber. He talks to Julie Nightingale. More
  • Engage, enable, enrich
    To forge the next step on the journey from good to great, the dynam ics of the education system must change. This was the key message from ASCL President Allan Foulds in his ‘eng age, enable and enrich’ keynote to conference. More
  • Mutual friends
    A new website is helping to highlight good practice in independent and state school partnerships and encouraging others to get involved. Members of the Independent State Schools Partnership (ISSP) Forum Deborah Leek-Bailey and Julie Robinson explain the thinking. More
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To forge the next step on the journey from good to great, the dynam ics of the education system must change. This was the key message from ASCL President Allan Foulds in his ‘eng age, enable and enrich’ keynote to conference.

Engage, enable, enrich

Curriculum and qualifications reform, the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), an acute teacher-supply crisis and severe budget cuts were some of the topics that dominated debate at the 2016 ASCL Annual Conference in Birmingham.

In his opening speech, President Allan Foulds acknowledged the challenges that school and college leaders are facing. Looking first at the EBacc, he said that the government’s target was a case of ministers seeking to over-prescribe exactly what should be taught.

“Learning core subjects is vital for young people,” he said. “But we should be able to make that part of a curriculum which is flexible enough to ensure enrichment by engaging with their individual strengths and interests.”

ASCL has raised a number of concerns over the EBacc proposals in the government’s consultation (you can view the consultation response at www.ascl.org.uk/news/implementingEBacc) and will continue to make the case that an independent commission for curriculum review is both necessary and desirable.

Critical issues

Highlighting ASCL’s recent survey of members on the critical issues of funding and teacher shortage, Allan said that it had produced stark results (see www.ascl.org.uk/news/teachershortages and here www.ascl.org.uk/news/fundingcrisis).

More than three-quarters of respondents said that the current financial situation and the one forecasted had had a detrimental impact on the education they were able to provide. The majority have had to reduce the number of courses on offer, increase class sizes, reduce the budget for teacher professional development and cut classroom resources.

On teacher supply, nearly 90 per cent have had difficulties in recruiting teachers and the vast majority said it was affecting the education they were able to provide and causing stress among staff. Many have to use more supply agency staff and non-specialists to teach subjects where there are vacancies.

“To put it simply, where are the teachers, and where is the money?” said Allan, adding that the problems were now so serious that there is a danger that “we will not be able to maintain current standards, let alone raise them further”.

He said, “The government is rightly committed to raising standards. Nothing is more important to school and college leaders. But it is simply asking the impossible to demand that schools and colleges take the next big leap forward in raising the bar without providing the essential materials with which to achieve that ambition.”

No amount of hard work and dedication in schools and colleges can make up for the lack of resources, he emphasised, and it was “wishful thinking” on the government’s behalf to believe otherwise.

Concluding, he said, “Together we have an incredibly strong collective voice that we can and must use to take us on to that next step. As I know you will agree, at the end of the day it is all of us who, in fact, will make the difference.”

The golden age

In her speech, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said that, while it may not always feel like it, “We are in a golden age of education in this country. Expectations are higher, standards have improved, and outcomes are better than at any time in our country’s history.”

Having read ASCL’s Blueprint (www.ascl.org.uk/blueprint) “numerous times”, she said, “I know we share a vision that is broadly aligned, where government provides a helping hand, but where improvement and innovation are driven from the sector itself.”

The Secretary of State acknowledged that teacher recruitment “is a challenge” and said the government was doing all that it could but that she needed the profession’s help to tackle it – “By all means, lobby me about what more the government can do to improve recruitment and retention.”

On funding, she insisted that, compared to the rest of the public sector, “the schools budget secured a relatively generous funding settlement. There simply isn’t, in a time of austerity, a magic money tree from which government can find more.”

She added, “But I know there are pressures and it is indisputable that we are expecting you to do more with the budgets you have.”

Making your voice heard

Interim General Secretary Malcolm Trobe spoke about the rapidly changing education landscape and said that the role of school and college leaders had become more challenging.

“Our responsibilities have increased considerably in terms of the complexity and range of tasks that we are required to undertake,” he said, adding that school and college leaders share a “deep sense of moral purpose” that keeps leaders going through the tough times.

Much of ASCL’s work is “hard graft, working through discussion and lobbying civil servants, advisers and ministers to influence their thinking, policy formation and implementation plans at the earliest possible stage,” he said, and he recalled former Secretary of State for Education and Skills Alan Johnson’s remark, “If you don’t like some of the government’s policies you should see the ones that ASCL have stopped us announcing!”

There had never been a greater need, he said, for the representation and support that ASCL provides. Education is going through a time of “unprecedented change” with members having to cope with huge demands.

On education funding, he said that ASCL had lobbied ministers for a funding formula that this government now intends to bring in. “We will be working on behalf of members to ensure that it really is fair and equitable and that it is introduced in a measured and manageable way.”

In terms of teacher supply, Malcolm said that ASCL had been highlighting the difficulties for more than two years until “at last the government has at least begun to recognise the seriousness and urgency of this situation”.

Health and wellbeing

Malcolm also underlined the growing concern over financial cutbacks in many areas of young people’s mental health services. It comes on the back of a survey on mental health conducted jointly by ASCL and the National Children’s Bureau (www.ascl.org.uk/news/childrensmentalhealthcare), showing a serious gap in mental health provision beyond the school gates.

Young people faced an extraordinary range of pressures today, he said, while leaders say that they have difficulty in accessing local specialist support, problems in obtaining information about the wellbeing of young people who are referred, and that many doubt the effectiveness of services that are so “pitifully” resourced.

On the new Foundation for Leadership in Education, Malcolm said that it would be a body owned and led by the profession that would work with the profession to map and develop a full suite of professional programmes and academic qualifications and “reaffirm the ambition of school leaders to actively develop the next generation of school leaders”.

Malcolm concluded by saying that the profession had been subject to the diktats of politicians and agencies outside the profession for far too long and things have to change.

“We must make the rhetoric of a self-improving, school-led system real. Together, we will take the next step on the journey from good to great.”

Conference catch-up

Presentations and speeches from plenary and breakout sessions, where available, can be found on the ASCL website, together with a conference highlights video from both days. See here www.ascl.org.uk/annualconference/downloadsMany of you have already asked about next year’s conference, and we can confirm that ASCL’s Annual Conference 2017 will take place on 10–11 March at the ICC in Birmingham. Please save the date. Further information will be available later in the year.