October 2014


  • Missing the mark
    ASCL’s warnings about the danger of piecemeal changes to GCSE were realised in the volatility of this year’s results, says Brian Lightman. However the real worry is the damaging effect it is having on our most disadvantaged students. More
  • Ideas take flight
    The need for an authentically school-led system was one of the key conclusions to emerge from ASCL’s Great Education Debate (GED). Here, Leora Cruddas spells out the blueprint for how it may be achieved. More
  • Joined-up thinking
    A new £22m scheme aims to capitalise on the power of networking to encourage more young people into HE and raise the profile of university outreach programmes, as Clair Murphy explains. More
  • Brighter Twilight
    ASCL’s learning after school programmes for would-be senior leaders are proving a popular alternative to the ‘sheep-dip model’ of Inset training days. Liz Lightfoot reports. More
  • The verdict
    After more than a year of passionate discussion, the Great Education Debate (GED) has concluded. Here, we record the key findings and explain the next steps for ASCL and the profession. More
  • Root causes
    Andrew Thraves looks at how attitudinal surveys can help senior leaders understand the causes of challenging behaviour and provide evidence of improvement when inspectors come calling. More
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The need for an authentically school-led system was one of the key conclusions to emerge from ASCL’s Great Education Debate (GED). Here, Leora Cruddas spells out the blueprint for how it may be achieved.


The direction of travel in education policy over the last three decades has been towards greater school autonomy.

The coalition government has accelerated this process, even if its policies have not been without controversy. In November 2010, 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.”

Government recognises that while it can create the conditions for a school-led system, only the profession can deliver it. School leaders must be the key agents in leading, informing and enabling a self-improving system.

Taking the lead

This is why ASCL undertook a project to develop a blueprint for the future. We think it is right that the profession takes the lead in determining what a self-improving system looks like and how it works. We see this as the next phase in system leadership.

The blueprint we have drawn up, based on the thoughts, views and intelligence that emerged from the Great Education Debate, consists of an overview of successes so far, learning points from less successful initiatives, recommendations for government to do more of some things and less of others, and proposals specifically for school leaders.

Society today expects an enormous amount of school and college leaders: “We demand that [leaders] solve, or at least manage, a multitude of interconnected problems that can develop into crisis without warning; we require them to navigate an increasingly turbulent reality that is, in key aspects, literally incomprehensible to the human mind; we buffet them on every side with bolder, more powerful special interests that challenge every innovative policy idea; we submerge them in often unhelpful and distracting information; and we force them to decide and act at an ever faster pace” – Michael Fullan, 2001, quoting Thomas Homer-Dixon.

However, despite these challenges, a window of opportunity is opening up. The policy environment, while challenging in terms of reforms, is also helping to create the conditions for a self-improving system; school-led structures like the Teaching Schools Council are emerging and support for a College of Teaching is gathering pace.

We are on the cusp of a great chance to shape our own destiny and we cannot afford to miss it.

A chronicle and a plan

The blueprint for a self-improving system is about how we can improve our education system by working together and focusing on a few key dimensions.

It is written from the point of view of an imagined future, looking back from the year 2020 at the steps that we may have taken on our journey towards this future. Thus, it is both a chronicle and a plan.

As a chronicle, we should assume that some parts are misremembered – or at least set out more simply than the reality may be. As a plan it is likely to be imperfect, making hard problems look too simple. It attempts to join some dots on the horizon that are perhaps converging and to mobilise the profession to confront problems that have not yet been successfully addressed.

At its heart is building capacity – our collective leadership capacity, our pedagogical capacity and perhaps most importantly the capacity for creativity, courage and action. The blueprint also contains a series of actions for school leaders, ASCL and the government.

There are relatively more actions for the profession, reflecting that the primary agents in a self-improving system are the school leaders themselves and underlining again the defining principle of this project: deep and sustained reform of our education system will not come from outside the profession – it depends on us.

The blueprint is summarised below and the full version can be downloaded from www.ascl.org.uk/blueprint

How the future may look


Teacher professionalism

The shift in the locus of responsibility from outside the school system to within it has had a significant impact on outcomes:

  • Joint practice development is now the norm – it is evidence-informed and linked to a framework of qualifications.
  • Chartered assessors from the profession work across schools.
  • There is a National Evidence Centre for Education.
  • There is a good spread of teaching schools in strategic partnerships with universities supporting advanced teacher training and research.
  • Most teachers now do master’s degrees and/or are actively engaged in research.
  • The College of Teaching is in its early stages – and gaining status and credibility. It is responsible for teacher standards.


Curriculum, assessment and qualifications 

Students in England have the knowledge, skills and qualities that are sought after globally – the least advantaged young people achieve not only formal qualifications but the qualities that are desirable to employers.

  • There is a broad, nationally defined, core curriculum framework in both primary and secondary phases.
  • The framework is determined by a commission for curriculum review, which meets every ten years.
  • A ‘growth mindset’ permeates school communities – there is a wholesale rejection of determinism by social class or perceived intelligence.
  • Ground-breaking research has been undertaken that ensures qualifications, examinations and assessment are fit for purpose.


Finance and governance 

Schools are now funded sufficiently, equitably and sustainably –a national funding formula, incorporating weighted funding for disadvantage, has been implemented.

  • Schools stayed in control of their own destiny – where not financially sustainable, they have joined together in federations or multi-academy trusts.
  • Governors are systematically recruited for skill as well as representation.
  • Governing bodies employ paid professional clerks.
  • Financial accountability is ensured through annual independent audit.
  • Finance directors/business managers are now securely established as assistant principals with equal pay and status.
  • There is a mechanism for a school to change from one trust to another or to leave a trust.


Intelligent accountability 

Intelligent accountability is now a widely understood concept – the highest form of accountability is the individual’s professional accountability for the quality of his or her own work to the people the profession serves.

  • Government has defined a clear accountability framework with a small number of ambitious goals including a nationally determined progress measure. Government has committed to stability and the framework has now been in place for five years.
  • Ofsted h has the power to inspect both groups of schools and individual schools. It has moved towards a model that holds partnerships to account for the quality of support and challenge provided to one another.
  • In partnerships with consistently good outcomes and strong peer review that demonstrates impact, Ofsted does not inspect individual schools.
  • Ofsted’s inspection training programme is now highly regarded – school leaders routinely join inspection teams.


Scrutiny and intervention 

Scrutiny of performance of all schools is now strong and coherent, undertaken by school commissioners in sub-regional areas – no school is left to drift where outcomes are not secure.

  • The Office of the Schools Commissioner (OSC) determines the sub-regional areas and appoints the school commissioners.
  • Headteacher boards quickly established themselves as effective and have been reconfigured along sub-regional lines.
  • Where a school is not delivering an acceptable quality of education, the school commissioner uses powers of intervention where the school does not have capacity to secure improvement.
  • Local democratic accountability is exercised through statutory education overview and scrutiny committees – the committees, chaired by the lead member for education in a local authority, have the power of call-in of the school commissioner and ultimately the power of referral to the Secretary of State.


Strategic planning 

Place planning that ensures both the sufficiency and quality of education is now strong and stable.

  • School places are calculated by local authorities using a range of data and local intelligence.
  • Where new schools are needed, the case is made to the school commissioner and invitations to tender are published.
  • There is no separate process for considering free school applications – these are considered alongside other applications where there is a need for places and/or to improve the quality of provision.
  • The local authority retains the statutory responsibility for ensuring that there are enough places and the commissioner is responsible for quality of provision.