February 2015


  • Essential support
    Member support is a cornerstone of ASCL’s work. Richard Tanton explains the different services and functions provided. More
  • Staying the course
    It’s not just students who need to be able to withstand challenges and learn to persist. Senior leaders and staff, too, would benefit from gaining a better understanding of how to build the personal resilience that will help them succeed, say Les Duggan and Mark Solomons. More
  • Over to us
    Government has handed schools control of the Pupil Premium with the overarching goal of helping to boost social mobility. John Dunford sets out a ten-point plan to help heads identify where to spend the money to gain maximum impact. More
  • Better together?
    Raising attainment for all? Becky Francis introduces a project to identify best practice in grouping students and invites schools to take part. More
  • Bridging the gap
    A fresh approach to transition, including an introduction to university for Year 6s, is helping one secondary to prepare primary pupils for life at ‘big school’. Dorothy Lepkowska reports. More
  • Mapping the future
    ASCL is expanding its presence in the English regions to help meet the changing needs of leaders. Brian Lightman explains the thinking behind the move. More
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ASCL is expanding its presence in the English regions to help meet the changing needs of leaders. Brian Lightman explains the thinking behind the move.

Mapping the future

When I became general secretary shortly after the last general election, nobody could have predicted the extent to which the shape of and structures within our education system would change. More than half of our secondary schools are now academies and, following an incredibly rapid growth during the last 12 months, there are now more than 735 multi-academy trusts (MATs). The roles and responsibilities of many ASCL members have evolved and broadened, providing development opportunities and challenges not only for them personally but also for their professional association.

Nobody can know exactly what might happen after the election on 7 May, but we do know that no political party is going to undo many of these reforms. One thing that is certain, is the need to ensure that ASCL remains agile enough to continue to meet the needs of all of our members in this rapidly changing environment.

In order to retain our enviable reputation and strong position of influence, we need to understand some very significant trends. We want ASCL to be in a position to make appropriate, strategic, evidence-informed decisions about the association’s future shape.

Leadership is changing

The roles performed by school and college leaders are becoming much more diverse.

Headteachers now often occupy executive leadership roles in more than one school, whether as a chief executive officer (CEO) of a MAT, an executive headteacher responsible for two or more discrete schools or in a federation. In many cases, these executive roles span both secondary and primary provision.

Some heads or executive heads are bidding to establish primary provision through the ‘free schools’ programme and/ or sponsoring or accepting converter primary schools into MATs. Some of our members are leaders of all-through schools, spanning both primary and secondary phases of education.

New pathways to school leadership – via Future Leaders, for example – are leading to a cadre of new school leaders with different backgrounds, teaching experiences, attitudes and expectations coming through the system. Their specific continuing professional development (CPD) needs differ from those who have come to headship through more traditional routes, as does the expertise they have to share with other members.

We are investigating what these emerging categories of members want and need from us as their professional association. Is our unique selling point (USP) of speaking for leaders of secondary schools and colleges still as relevant and significant in this new context?

Networks of influence

The networks of influence that have made ASCL so valuable to its members are also changing.

The political policy making process and the way that influence is brought to bear have shifted irrevocably in the last few years. Government policy is no longer the exclusive remit of the Department for Education (DfE). The current government has, for example, used a range of policy making bodies, including influential think tanks, to inform (and even form) their policy. The proliferation of social media and the emergence of influential social media presences informing policy is a recent trend.

In response to all of these developments, we have commissioned a specialist company, Britain Thinks, to undertake an inquiry for us. Britain Thinks has interviewed key education stakeholders and a sample of school and college leaders to establish their views on what they want from a professional association, their perceptions of the changing nature of leadership, and the changing nature of networks and influence. Armed with this knowledge, we will determine how best ASCL can respond to these emerging issues. We look forward to letting you know the outcome of this work within the next few months.

Regionalisation and regional pilots

ASCL’s member support for England is currently organised into nine regions aligned with the former government office regions.

As membership numbers grow, it is important that we consider different ways of communicating with our members at a regional level and further develop our appreciation of regional perspectives. It is also evident that, although regional officers oversee activities in their areas, the ever-growing complexity and volume of casework, together with structural changes, means that regional officers rarely have the amount of time that they need to initiate and implement regional activity.

In the early months of 2013, discussions led to the notion of running with two regional pilots in the North East and East of England respectively. Regional officers led the pilots, supported one day a week by a regional pilot network coordinator.

From the outset, the commitment of colleagues has been extraordinary. Establishing the aim of creating a better understanding of our membership in both regions and their needs has led to a sharper, more focused analysis of the needs of our members.

A feature of the pilot has been network meetings with themes based on surveys carried out by the pilot coordinators. It brings members together regularly and gives them an opportunity to discuss their approaches to specific matters and tell pilot coordinators what they would like to see discussed at subsequent meetings.

We organised three very well attended training days for branch secretaries, a conference with the regional Ofsted director in the South West and a North East conference. Interestingly, the pilots have also identified professional development needs and priorities where ASCL Professional Development (ASCL PD) could offer bespoke courses to members, often targeting a specific group, such as assistant heads.

We have now decided to roll out the pilots across the whole country as a regionalisation project. By January 2015, a further three regions – the North West, East Midlands and South West – will be ready, bringing the number of regions participating in the project to five. Each region will benefit from the appointment of a coordinator and our Deputy Policy Director Duncan Baldwin taking on an enhanced role will lead the entire project.

Regionalisation in national context

We must see the decision to develop ASCL’s regionalisation project in the national context. Ofsted has already moved to a regional structure with the appointment of regional directors. From September 2014, eight regional schools commissioners (RSCs) have been responsible for taking decisions about the academies in their area. The Teaching Schools Council is also operating a regional structure. Government thinking is becoming ever more based on regionalisation and ASCL’s structures should be able to reflect these developments. The pilots in the North East and East of England and other regional activities suggest that we have a template to extend our regional presence and structures.

We know that a Labour government or a Labour-led government would appoint directors of school standards and it is likely that they would be sub-regional rather than regional.

The regionalisation project spans the election period. It will be necessary to factor into the evaluation and recommendations a new government’s intentions.

All of this emphasises the importance of us hearing and acting upon the views of our members. Your elected representatives on ASCL Council and Executive have been discussing this topic in detail and our membership survey provided valuable and highly positive feedback for us. Nevertheless, it is of vital importance that you have your say. Please send in your thoughts to future@ascl.org.uk and/or speak to your elected Council representative (www.ascl.org.uk/member/council/councilrepresentatives.html).

ASCL has always been proud to be a member-led organisation. As we move into the next exciting stage of our development, your voice will be of even more vital importance.

Brian Lightman is ASCL General Secretary.