April 2018

Features

  • Lead the way
    At our Annual Conference, Geoff Barton urged the government and other agencies to reduce the bureaucratic burden on the education profession, but he said leaders should also step up and act now on workload. More
  • #WomenEd: A leading voice
    Frustrated at the lack of momentum gathered by initiatives to encourage women into leadership, #WomenEd decided to take action. Co-founder Keziah Featherstone explains why something had to change. More
  • Central vision
    How do multi-academy trusts (MATs) create a shared ethos and culture across their schools? GL Assessment's Chief Executive Greg Watson argues that the key is to think centrally but work collaboratively. More
  • Primary goals
    ASCL's newly published Primary Accountability Review makes 15 key recommendations to help ensure that primary schools are held to account for what matters most. Here ASCL Policy Director Julie McCulloch takes a look at the review's findings. More
  • School funding: The impact
    How have school funding levels changed, what effect is this having on spending and what is the relationship between funding and outcomes? Here, NFER Research Manager Maire Williams explores the latest research. More
  • Invaluable insights
    ASCL Annual Conference was a chance to take stock of what we do in our schools and colleges, and opened our eyes to fantastic learning and networking opportunities, says Headteacher Theo Nickson. More
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At our Annual Conference, Geoff Barton urged the government and other agencies to reduce the bureaucratic burden on the education profession, but he said leaders should also step up and act now on workload.

Lead the way

I donít think Iíve ever dealt brilliantly with the ritual of conversations at the start of term, when training day small-talk fills the corridors before pupils (and normality) return a day or two later.

And I suppose it must feel a bit like that for you if you didnít attend ASCLís Annual Conference and we appear to keep mentioning it.

Sorry. Bear with us. The reason we believe our conference is so important in the rhythm of the educational year is, in part, because it isnít like other union conferences. There are no motions, no votes, and no fiery disputes about the constitution but there are nuggets galore.

Our conference is an opportunity for personal and professional rejuvenation, a chance to reconnect with the big and small ideas in education, a chance to mingle with colleagues, speakers and agenda-setters. You can read an account of it on page 20.

The event is the proud centre-piece of a professional association that believes itís time that we, school and college leaders across the UK, should step up and lead the way.

And thatís what I aimed to explore in my conference speech to a packed auditorium, before chairing a discussion with Secretary of State Damian Hinds and HMCI Amanda Spielman on funding, accountability and what a broad curriculum means in practice.

Hereís a flavour of what I said, deploying a phrase from Doris Kearns Goodwinís book, Team of Rivals: The political genius of Abraham Lincoln. Itís an all-encompassing biography of Abraham Lincoln whom the author describes as a member of ďa restless generation, destined to leave behind the 18th century world of their fathersĒ.

I suggested as leaders we should be more restless. I spoke about our teachers, saying that we have a crisis on our hands. Too few people want to become teachers and too many teachers leave the profession too early. We are losing good people of deep experience, people who have taught and retaught topics and skills, honing their practice, refining their craft, and becoming ever better as teachers. We need more people like them in our classrooms.

Tell the story

Thatís why on recruitment and retention we need to do things better. We have to tell a better story about teaching to the world outside but also within our schools and colleges.

After fifteen years of headship, I now regret that I didnít appropriate an assembly each year for this purpose, asking members of staff at different points in their career to talk about why they became teachers, what they love about the job, their memorable moments and the teacher who had inspired them. From the fresh-faced trainee to the grizzled staffroom veteran, theyíd be united in articulating the pleasures of the job to an audience of young people who perhaps hadnít thought of teaching as a career. I wish Iíd done that assembly.

This is where we will work with the Department for Education, with Ofsted, with Ofqual, to have the boldness to challenge a culture of compliance in our system that currently adds to teacher and leader workload, and that distracts us all from our core work with young people.

And, in truth, this isnít an issue just for those who work outside our schools and colleges. Itís an issue for us. Hereís how Professor Becky Allen at University College London, puts it:

ďTeaching has always been a demanding job. But over the past 15 years, there has been one significant change. Today, teaching is no longer a private endeavour that takes place in a classroom. Now teachers are required to create a paper trail that proves learning has happened, for people who were not present in the room at the time. This audit culture means that, in many schools, the teacher no longer is able to decide how to prepare and deliver lessons, mark pupilsí work, and assess and record learning.Ē

You hold the cards

I read this in The Guardian last November and texted Professor Allen to say, ďThatís a pretty challenging, provocative piece.Ē She texted back: ďYour members hold all the cards.Ē

So we call upon government and other agencies to do all they can to reduce the bureaucratic burden on teachers and leaders, to work with us to recalibrate accountability, to measure what we value and not just value what can be measured.

But itís not just about them. Itís also about us. At its heart, teacher workload is an issue for us as leaders: we hold all the cards. In the short-term, thatís about doing what we can to strip out the meetings, administration and monitoring practices that deflect teachers from their core classroom purpose.

In the longer term, weíre the generation who needs to redefine what it is to be a teacher in the 21st century, to make sure we donít become the Luddite profession, doing things in the way weíve always done them. We need to explore how technology and artificial intelligence (AI) can take some of the routine activities from teachersí lives, providing more nuanced assessment feedback, freeing teachers to work directly with their classes of young people.

ASCL will be restless in this. And all of us need to be restless in insisting on principled leadership, restless on behalf of our children, attentive to their mental health and wellbeing, their use of social media, to the richness of the curriculum they receive.

We need to be restless, too, on behalf of our teachers, tackling workload, restoring joy to the classroom. We must be restless on behalf of our communities, especially those who have lost faith in education.

And, finally, letís be restless on behalf of ourselves, bolder, more self-assured in our sense of common purpose, building a legacy whereby once the turbulent times have passed, we can look back and say: we were the restless generation who led the way.


We call upon government and other agencies to do all they can to reduce the bureaucratic burden on teachers and leaders, to work with us to recalibrate accountability, to measure what we value and not just value what can be measured.


Geoff Barton
ASCL General Secretary
@RealGeoffBarton

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