June 2015


  • Creating the perfect mix
    Hard partnerships between schools are likely to proliferate in the next few years so what basic principles should they be built on? Leora Cruddas explains ASCL’s guidance. More
  • New path for careers
    Karleen Dowden explains the thinking behind a new foundation code on Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) and highlights how schools and colleges are collaborating with employers to enrich their students’ careers education. More
  • Extreme measures
    David Wright explores the dangers to children’s wellbeing posed by political extremists on social media and outlines the steps schools can take to protect students from indoctrination online. More
  • National trust
    Confidence in the teaching profession to transform education for the better was a key theme at the 2015 ASCL Annual Conference in London. More
  • How to be courageous
    Dorothy Lepkowska talks to those involved in a pioneering scheme encouraging more black and minority ethnic (BME) women to pursue leadership roles by focusing on character, resilience and self-knowledge. More
  • Trust us
    Tired rhetoric about failing schools on one side and government interference on the other must end, Brian Lightman told this year’s ASCL Annual Conference. It’s time for a new discourse, one based on trusting school leaders. More
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Confidence in the teaching profession to transform education for the better was a key theme at the 2015 ASCL Annual Conference in London.

National trust

This year’s ASCL annual conference provided a fantastic platform to discuss the issues in our blueprint for a self-improving system, with ministers from all three political parties endorsing many of the proposals during the two days.

One topic that echoed throughout the conference was that of the impending funding crisis. President Peter Kent and General Secretary Brian Lightman both warned of the consequences that reduced education budgets would have on the future of our children’s education.

In his opening speech, Peter Kent called on the next government to ensure that education funding levels are “suffi cient, sustainable and equitable.”

He said, “The reality is that our current system of funding is making it impossible for some schools and colleges to make ends meet.

“Even before the underwhelming offers of a future based upon fl at cash or an inflation increase that will be swallowed up by increased pupil numbers, many ASCL members were telling us that they had gone past the point where efficiency savings could be made.

“Our children only get one chance and will not understand if we tell them in fi ve years’ time that their education has been sacrifi ced on the altar of defi cit reduction.”

Over the next 18 months, schools and colleges will have to find more money from their stretched budgets for increases to pension and National Insurance (NI) contributions and pay rises for support staff and teachers.

ASCL has calculated that this will add about 4.5 per cent to every school’s costs without taking infl ation into account. In the average secondary school of 920 students, that equates to £199,000 – the equivalent of four or five teachers.

‘Wide variations’

Analysis published by ASCL has showed that schools in the most poorly funded areas would, on average, each receive £1.9 million less than those in the best-funded areas in 2015-16 (see  ww.ascl.org.uk/surveyresults).

“Wide variations in the level of funding across the country cannot be justifi ed and have to be addressed,” said Peter.

He also called on schools to consider how they can work together in federations and multi-academy trusts (MATs) to achieve greater efficiency. Over the coming years, it is likely that the boundaries between primary and secondary schools will become blurred as schools work together in this way.

On the conference theme – Trust to Transform – Peter called on the next government to step back from changing the education system for the sake of “short-term headlines” and to put more trust in the teaching profession.

“Is it so far-fetched to suggest that government should confine itself to core functions such as fair funding and ensuring an adequate supply of teachers, and then say to the profession ‘over to you’?

“This would not create a cosy little club; instead we want to commit ourselves to higher and more demanding standards which would come from shared values and a desire to do the best for every child in our care.”

Peter said that the English education system was a good one with more than 70 per cent of secondary schools judged as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ – 10 per cent more than the figure just five years ago.

Taking it from ‘good’ to ‘great’ would require a new approach in which change was driven by the teaching profession rather than the government.

ASCL’s blueprint sets out this vision in detail.

At the forefront

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan admitted that the last few years had not been easy for the teaching profession.

“Let’s be honest, this government has expected more from school leaders than almost any other profession; you have been at the forefront of our plan for education, delivering significant changes to how and where our pupils are taught,” she said.

“You haven’t agreed with everything we’ve done and we’d have been surprised if you had.”

She supported the majority of ASCL’s blueprint. “Where I think the blueprint has hit the nail on the head is in its insistence that ‘self-improvement’ means something more than simply ‘school-led’. ‘Self-improvement’ demands a mature and measured approach to challenging practice, to driving continuous improvement and to working together to push boundaries.”

ASCL had made a powerful case for trusting school leaders and the profession, she said. “We accept that case wholeheartedly.”

One message that stood out clearly throughout the blueprint was “that the profession wants to see those freedoms go further, faster and deeper.”

“That is a direction of travel to which I’m wholly prepared to commit.”

But Nicky Morgan said that she could not agree with what she described as “its suggestion of taking control of the curriculum away from ministers.”

“It’s my belief that what our children learn in schools must be something that is decided by democratically elected representatives,” she said.

Creativity, dynamism and relevance

In his speech, Brian Lightman called for the government to put more trust in the teaching profession to shape what children learn, rather than imposing relentless change from above.

He said that schools should have a much greater say in setting the curriculum in order to bring more “creativity, dynamism and relevance” into what pupils study. A national core curriculum should be decided by an independent commission made up of school leaders, governors, teachers, parents, employers and politicians and be reviewed only once every five years, he said.

“Beyond that, schools would build their own curriculum bringing creativity, dynamism and relevance into curriculum development. This requires a climate of mutual trust in which professionals are trusted to use their expertise to make the right decisions and government is trusted to create the conditions for a world-class education system.”

Brian also urged schools to continue teaching science practicals despite the decision of Ofqual to drop them from GCSE science exams.

“Schools do not need to blindly follow decisions that have been made about testing. If our vision for the curriculum says that science practicals are important, then let’s do them!”

He added that teachers should be allowed to assess students’ practical work during courses as part of their final grades.

“The answer lies in trusting the teaching profession, and the profession showing it is ready to step up to this challenge, ” said Brian, who also emphasised the importance of teachers carrying out assessment work in general.

He repeated ASCL’s call for the introduction of “a fair and equitable funding system pre- and post-16.”

“Changes will be needed for 2016-17 or many schools will ‘fall off a financial cliff’. There must be an expectation that every school and college will b be funded sufficiently to provide a suitable curriculum, a safe and secure environment and a quality physical environment which supports teaching and learning.”

Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt added his support for the blueprint.

“It is absolutely right – the days of education by diktat must come to an end. More than ever before, change in education must come from the bottom-up.”

Educationalist and Chief Education Adviser to Pearson Sir Michael Barber also gave a robust endorsement of the blueprint’s vision: “I genuinely believe that you have a unique opportunity to seize the momentum and lead reform,” he said.

Further reading

ASCL’s blueprint for self-improving system: www.ascl.org.uk/blueprint

Stop, rewind and play back

Throughout conference, we streamed all plenary sessions live via the ASCL website. The full recording is now available to view along with presentations, and speeches from keynote speakers, where available – see our website www.ascl.org.uk/acdownloads

ASCL Annual Conference 2016

This will take place on Friday 4 and Saturday 5 March at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole.