May 2013

The know zone

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  • Aim Higher
    Carol Holmes is an assistant headteacher and is the director of teaching and learning at Westhoughton High School in Bolton. She was a recipient of one the University of Oxford Inspirational Teachers Awards last year in recognition of helping a student secure a place at Christ Church College. More
  • Tricky Waters...
    The issue of whether or not to pay governors was raised again recently by Sir Michael Wilshaw. Would paying governors enhance the calibre of people who apply? Here leaders share their views. More
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    Register & Be A Lifesaver (R&Be) is an education programme run by blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan, in conjunction with NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT). More
  • Adding value
    ASCL premier partner, SIMS wants to support schools to get the most out of their Student Information Management System (SIMS) software, to ensure that the software is making a difference to pupil progress and outcomes. More
  • It’s good to talk...
    In his speech to ASCL's Annual Conference, Brian Lightman invited anyone with an interest in education to take part in a Great Debate about its future. Here, he explains the rationale for this ambitious undertaking. More
  • Leader's Surgery
    The antidote to common leadership conundrums… More
  • Voyage into the unknown
    Grievances and resignations, endless meetings and time management issues… and what to buy colleagues in the ’Secret Santa’. These are all trials and tribulations to be faced by the new head. More
  • Searching for answers
    With the long-awaited proposals for the National Curriculum finally published in February, that and changes to qualifications dominated the discussion in the plenary sessions at February’s Council meeting. More
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It’s good to talk...

In his speech to ASCL’s Annual Conference, Brian Lightman invited anyone with an interest in education to take part in a Great Debate about its future. Here, he explains the rationale for this ambitious undertaking.

During the last year, many of you have told me that you are yearning for a coherent message about education from government. You tell me that you are hearing lots of words – ‘rigour’, ‘standards’, ‘autonomy’, ‘accountability’ – but it is not clear how it all comes together so that whether a child is born in Penzance or Newcastle, London or Lincolnshire, he or she has access to comparable opportunities, curriculum and range of school provision.

I would go a step further and say that we need a coherent message from all political parties, reinforced by academics, employers and most of all education professionals, about the future of our education system.

The encouraging news is that I believe we are beginning to see this.

First of all, there is a consensus about the fact that we want a world-class system. Ministers want it. All the political parties want it. Employers want it. We want it.

And while there will be lively debate about the detail of such a system, there is wide agreement about the top two priorities: raising achievement and closing the gaps.

There is also a growing body of evidence, including information coming from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and McKinsey & Company (the global management consulting firm), about what those world-class, high-performing systems tend to do.

‘Policy tourism’

However, the debate has been most unhelpfully distracted by what Professor Dylan Wiliam described as “policy tourism”: Rather than trying to get underneath the skin of the systems they admire, governments tend to focus on selected structural issues. These are simple solutions to complex problems. And they almost invariably duck the ‘elephant in the room’ – the really tricky cultural issues, such as the fact that white British boys and girls on free school meals (FSM) are the lowest performing of any ethnic group in our schools.

I don’t think that positive leaders and courageous thinkers can afford to duck these issues. That is why I believe that the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) report First Steps was possibly the most important contribution to the debate in 2012. Rather than sidestepping the issues, it placed our leading employers at the centre of the discussions to establish and agree that all-important consensus.

Our job as the association representing secondary school and college leaders is to flesh out this consensus and to rise to that challenge.

We are currently working with other partners including the CBI to articulate that vision. With the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT), we will be co-badging a series of papers in the next few months over a whole range of aspects of the education we provide.

We have already been doing our own work on those complex challenges that don’t have simple solutions.

We have been promised autonomy. I fail to understand how that lines up with some of the statements we hear about how maths should be taught, what the best forms of assessment are or the increasing number of specific requirements from Ofsted, but I am absolutely confident that ASCL members know what is best for their students and know how to give their staff the leadership they need to make that vision a reality.

I have called for coherence and said that leaders provide solutions not problems – ASCL will do just that.

In 1976, Lord Callaghan’s famous Ruskin College speech initiated the Great Debate about the future of our education service. Many of the issues he raised are still highly relevant. Surely, it is now time for us as a profession to initiate a second Great Debate that involves everyone with a stake in education.

No political bias

We need to take stock and look objectively and without political bias at the evidence of what is working and what is not; we need to defi ne and clarify the areas of consensus and set out a vision that will go beyond this and the next Parliament. We need to do what so many of those high-performing jurisdictions do, which is to agree a long-term development plan for the future of our education service, a plan that will rise above short-term political considerations and not be driven by the electoral cycle.

And to use Lord Callaghan’s phrase we must not tell anyone to “keep off the grass”. Nobody can be excluded from this debate, however challenging or uncomfortable that makes the discussions. We need to hear from the left, the right and the middle; we need to hear from parents, employers, academics, representatives of all kinds of educational institutions and sectors and anyone else with a view.

We need to evaluate the properly researched evidence. And at the end of that debate, we have to come up with a workable, overarching plan with clear success criteria, clarity about how it will be resourced and how our success will be measured in qualitative and quantitative terms. The test of any current or future government or Opposition will be their willingness to engage in this matter of national importance.

ASCL is offering to play a leading role but neither we or any other organisation can do it alone, and we call on the government to support this and help us to make it happen. May there even be the appetite for a Royal Commission?

Everyone who is serious about leading our education service forward is urged to join in. We will facilitate seminars and other activities to take the discussion forward and we will report back on our findings at next year’s annual conference in Birmingham.

As positive leaders we will do everything we can to contribute to the solution and we invite all of our members to engage their staff, their leadership teams, their governors, students and their wider communities in this debate. But while we will play a leading and proactive part, it would be wholly wrong for us to monopolise it.

All parties will have to compromise, listen and take on board the legitimate views of others. And that includes us.

  • Brian Lightman secretary is ASCL general - Join the conversation

Join the conversation

Over the next 12 months ASCL will facilitate a second Great Debate on the future of our education service. This will include seminars, online forums, surveys and discussion papers. By the next ASCL Annual Conference on 21-22 March 2014, ASCL will have produced an interim report that sets out what the areas of consensus are, where we need to have more debate in order to reach agreement, and possible next steps to achieve this. ASCL will facilitate the debate, but everyone needs to contribute – employers, parents, young people, academics, politicians, educational institutions and school and college leaders.