September 2016


  • Find your inner chimp
    Reflective practice has long been recommended as a good thing but how does it engage the brain? Professor Steve Peters devised the Chimp model to identify the neuroscience behind reflection and help improve individual performance. More
  • Beyond data
    Leaders need a holistic view of their school if they are to set priorities that will truly accelerate learning for all of their pupils and especially for the most vulnerable, says Philippa Cordingley. More
  • More or less?
    Why is there an over-supply of teachers for PE but a shortage for business studies? Professor John Howson looks at the modelling process that predicts the number of trainee teachers required nationally and why it’s never an exact science. More
  • Making an in-road
    A Secretary of State from a comprehensive school is just one of the post-referendum changes for education. Malcolm Trobe looks at what’s in Justine Greening’s in-tray and what else is on the agenda for the year ahead. More
  • P8 ready
    Greg Watson looks at how senior leaders can use their existing programmes of assessment to help all of their students continuously improve and explores what’s next for the new measure. More
  • Powerful knowledge
    Schools should teach children to know and to learn for the rest of their lives, not for short-term gain, says Headteacher Carolyn Roberts. If they fail in that task, inequality will continue to blight society. More
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A Secretary of State from a comprehensive school is just one of the post-referendum changes for education. Malcolm Trobe looks at what’s in Justine Greening’s in-tray and what else is on the agenda for the year ahead.

Making an in-road

I am sure we are all familiar with the phrase, attributed to former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, “A week is a long time in politics” and we can even go back to 1886 when Liberal politician Joseph Chamberlain is reported to have said, “In politics, there is no use in looking beyond the next fortnight.”

How true that was in the aftermath of the European Union (EU) referendum: a commitment for the UK to leave the EU, a new Prime Minister and a new Secretary of State for Education in a reformed Department for Education (DfE) were all significant changes that will undoubtedly have an impact on the future life chances of young people and the working lives of all of us in the education sector.

Our initial response immediately after the ‘leave’ vote was similar to that message on the Ministry of Information 1939 poster: Keep Calm and Carry On. The stability in our education system comes from those of us leading and working in the profession. It was important then to resist all media pressure to speculate what the potential impact of the referendum outcome would be and instead deal calmly with the immediate impact on the students and staff in our schools and colleges, which is exactly what happened. Sadly, there were a number of xenophobic and intolerant incidents reported so we have collated the questions and information that members have sent through to us and raised these matters with the DfE to enable us to report back to you early this term.

When the reshuffle changes were announced, I reflected on the fact that Justine Greening is the eleventh person to be Secretary of State since I took up my headship 25 years ago. Education ministers come and go but in their period of office they can have a major impact on our education system, so developing a good working relationship and being able to positively influence their policies is an important aspect of ASCL’s work. It was, therefore, good to see the newly installed Secretary of State being quick to contact ASCL, making an introductory phone call on her second day in office, and holding our first meeting before she went on her, probably fairly brief, summer vacation.

Department expansion

In Justine Greening, we have the first Secretary of State to have been educated at a comprehensive school. She is also leading a much-expanded department that now includes both further and higher education. This is, I believe, a very positive step. It brings all areas of education within the same department, which should facilitate greater coordination of strategies across the whole sector.

First impressions are important and she made a sure-footed start on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show the weekend after the reshuffle and through her first public article in which she said: “I want today’s teachers, and today’s schools, to excite – and to instil – as much passion for learning as my teachers and schools did for me.”

It was also clear in our first meeting that she has a personal commitment to social mobility, meaning that we are likely to see this as one of the drivers of her education policy.

Her initial approach was not uncommon for someone fresh in post as she deferred a number of announcements to give herself the opportunity to review the priorities of her new department. The failure to get the second consultation on the National Funding Formula (NFF) out before the pre-referendum ‘purdah’ meant that a delay on the NFF was almost inevitable; there was no time to complete a full consultation on the plans in time to implement it next year.

In our meeting, we were able to stress the need to publish the second stage of the consultation early in the autumn and that she will need to ensure those schools that will be adversely affected by the delay receive additional funding in 2017–18. We also made it clear to her that the level of funding for 16–19 year-olds is woefully inadequate and needs addressing urgently.

Important and urgent?

She asked us what else was both important and urgent so we were able to raise our other top priority that we believe she must address immediately: the chronic situation of teacher supply and the lack of any overarching strategy to address this problem.

Following our meeting we wrote to her with these and other issues such as the lack of a government response to the EBacc consultation even though it is now six months since the closing date, and we emphasised the need for her to tackle the issues around Key Stage 2 assessment and testing.

In his TES column Jonathan Simons, Head of Education at the think-tank Policy Exchange, headlined with: “Give poor Justine a bit of time to settle into her job”. He is right in that she will need time to fully understand her brief, read the evidence and receive the advice needed to make key decisions. Our key role is to ensure that your priorities are at the top of her list and that she realises that some decisions cannot be delayed for long.

A new Secretary of State is not the only change in the DfE. There is a relatively new permanent secretary in Jonathan Sharples and two of the director generals have been moved, post-referendum, to ‘Brexit’ posts in other departments.

Add to this that we now have an Ofsted chief inspector designate in Amanda Spielman, confirmed in post literally in the last hour of Nicky Morgan’s tenure as education secretary. Sir Michael Wilshaw is currently due to remain as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) until the end of the year and details of the handover are as yet unclear.

With all of these changes around it is an ideal time for ASCL to have an impact on policy so we will be doing our upmost to influence all key decision-makers, including the Secretary of State, by promoting ASCL’s policies as expressed in our Blueprint for a Self-Improving System. We may well have to wait until the first week in October and her Conservative Party conference speech before we get more details of Justine Greening’s educational vision but there will be important decisions to be made before then.

Make the vision real

As our incoming President, Sian Carr says in her introduction that we, as leaders of the profession, need to seize the agenda and make our vision of the school-led self-improving system real. We need to demonstrate our leadership of the system now and also take responsibility for developing the leaders of the future. This will involve the early identification of talent and making a commitment to training and mentoring them throughout their career.

It also, I believe, has implications for the way in which our schools and colleges are led and what is looked for in appointing a school leader. James Croft, Executive Director of the Centre for the Study of Market Reform of Education, headlined their recent report on school leadership, “We need to stop looking for ‘hero heads’ for a national school improvement strategy”. A message ASCL fully supports.

The future surely has to be one of school leaders able to genuinely distribute leadership and of leadership that embraces new ways of working and engages many people in leadership activities. For evidence, we can go back to the PricewaterhouseCoopers report Effective School Leadership of (2007) that concluded, “School leadership has a greater influence on schools and students when it is widely distributed.”

It was Microsoft supremo Bill Gates who, talking about his own leadership, said, “Successful leaders are those who empower others.”

It worked for him and I believe it can work for us.

Malcolm Trobe is ASCL Interim General Secretary