February 2012

The know zone

  • Fault lines
    As keen readers of this column know, ‘vicarious liability’ is the legal doctrine that makes employers answerable for the actions of an employee in the course of his or her employment. But how does this translate to extra-curricular school activities? Richard Bird explains. More
  • Stay in touch?
    Teacher contact ratio is a topic of perennial importance but attempting to work out what the ideal figure should be is always a frustrating business, says Sam Ellis More
  • Lead vocals
    Quotes from Confucius, Douglas Adams and Aristotle More
  • Action man
    Until this spring, Graeme Hornsby is assistant principal (business management) at Lutterworth College, Leicestershire, a school with a £10m budget, 400 staff and 2,000 pupils where he has worked since 1989. A keen triathlete, he regularly undertakes a 600-mile round trip to see his beloved Celtic FC play. More
  • E-safety first...
    Online safety is in the spotlight throughout the world in February. More
  • Adding value
    A simple answer to saving money More
  • A level playing field
    UCAS has proposed allowing students to apply to university after they receive their A level results, even though it means moving the A level teaching period and shortening the exam window. Is it the best way to improve the admissions system? What are the implications? Members share their views. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    Healthy outlook provides food for thought & Early retirement calculations More
  • Old challenges for a new year...
    While the ongoing pension negotiations were high on the agenda of last Council, on 8-9 December, intelligent accountability was also a hot topic, with discussions in various committees on Ofsted, local authorities and the role of governors. More
  • Failing to plan...?
    The National Curriculum Review’s expert panel report, published in December, concurred with ASCL’s view that it is pointless to change the curriculum until we’ve agreed what purpose the curriculum is expected to serve. This debate has not happened, says Brian Lightman. More
  • Podium panic!
    Keeping the guest speaker sober and on-message while peppering your own presentation with song titles and wondering what some of the gongs are actually for – all concerns as prize-giving ceremonies loom large… More
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While the ongoing pension negotiations were high on the agenda of last Council, on 8-9 December, intelligent accountability was also a hot topic, with discussions in various committees on Ofsted, local authorities and the role of governors.

Old challenges for a new year...

Local authorities and governors

Public and Parliamentary Committee
With the demise of local authorities (LAs), the committee, led by chair Peter Campling, discussed if a middle layer was needed between schools and central government. It was agreed that ASCL should not propose this, as members value their autonomy. What is more helpful is a clear statement of principles and values for working in collaboration, rather than a proposal for new structures and systems.

The committee agreed that governing bodies can provide an important level of accountability and support but there was concern over their sometimes random quality and the potential damage to be done by a rogue governor.

There needs to be more clarity between the head’s leadership and management role and the role of governing bodies. It is felt that often little is done about poor governing bodies by local authorities; heads may need more power in this regard.

There were also concerns about how some of the academy governing bodies are called to account. The committee agreed that the ASCL/National Governors’ Association joint statement needs to be reviewed and made more robust, with a clear framework and code of conduct.

PISA tests

International Committee
Chair Roger Leighton presided over a lively discussion about whether ASCL should recommend that members take part in the 2012 PISA tests, given the government’s liberal use of international comparison data.

On balance, the committee felt that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages and proposed the following recommendation:

Benchmarking the UK education system against international standards, providing data for measured and contextualised comparisons, is a valuable exercise despite the challenges of designing cross-border tests and interpreting their results. If the outcomes are to have any chance of being meaningful we need a truly representative sample and would therefore urge all schools selected for PISA 2012 to take part.

Council agreed the recommendation.

16 to 19 funding consultation

Funding and Post-16 Committees
The Funding and Post-16 Committees jointly met to discuss the draft ASCL response to the 16-19 funding consultation. Members agreed that the current system is sophisticated, rather than complicated, and that a simpler formula would not be a fairer formula. A new distribution formula is bound to cause upheaval and a period of contracting budgets is the worst time to make changes to the funding methodology.

However, if the government is determined to proceed, the committees wanted to see success rates retained, as removing them would penalise more successful institutions.

They also supported a range of funding levels – the government would consider up to three – to mirror the current situation as closely as possible in the hope that this would produce the least turbulence. Funding Specialist Sam Ellis agreed to finalise and submit the response.

National Curriculum Review

Education Committee
Chair Andy Yarrow led the discussion on ASCL’s response to the National Curriculum Review, prior to the publication of the expert panel’s report. Education Policy Specialist Sue Kirkham reminded the committee that the central principle which ASCL endorsed is that everyone is entitled to a well-rounded curriculum which prepares them for life in the 21st century.

It was generally agreed that all young people should be expected to learn the same things irrespective of the school or college they attend, whether state-funded or independent.

There was concern that accountability systems place too much emphasis on subjects such as maths and English at the expense of breadth, which is limiting post-16 choices. Thanks were forwarded to Martin Ward who had written the document.

Intelligent accountability

Professional Committee
Chair Ian Bauckham presented a discussion paper to stimulate debate on updating ASCL’s policy on intelligent accountability.

ASCL has always accepted the need for accountability, if accompanied by a reduction in bureaucracy and a nationally cohesive and fair education system. Concerns were expressed about a number of areas which threatened intelligent accountability including:

  • Aspects of Ofsted including exemption from inspection, ‘raising the bar’ and redefinition of what is ‘good’ every two years
  • Creeping privatisation –
  • taking schools out of local community control and increasing fragmentation
  • Publication of data in ways that promote inaccurate or misleading comparisons
  • Floor targets which carry the risk of short-term, knee-jerk responses
  • Isolation of school leaders

The chair agreed to produce a second draft of the paper for the next meeting in the light of contributions made.


Pay and Conditions Committee
The committee, led by chair David Trace, reviewed the current pensions situation prior to the Council plenary debate.

It heard that much of the negotiations have centred around the long-term future of the scheme, to make it fair and attractive to new entrants to the profession and to encourage them to move to senior posts.

The committee agreed to recommend that the association continue to pursue negotiations with the aim of securing the best possible deal for members and avoiding an imposed scheme.


Plenary debate
Full Council had a long debate about the negotiations so far on the teachers and local government schemes, and reviewed the latest government offer for teachers.

Flexibilities within the scheme have been discussed – such as a replacement of voluntary contributions or increased contributions – to allow more scope for members wishing to retire early.

In terms of tiered contributions there is a need to balance lower contributions for those in their early years against inordinate increases for those on higher salaries and/ or later in their careers. ASCL has been in favour of a limited tiering of contributions rather than the whole raft of scaling proposed at the moment.

Council discussed the potential disincentive of higher tax and higher contributions for teachers moving to leadership positions. Strong views were expressed regarding the possible impact on recruitment to leadership posts.

In terms of a career average scheme (CARE) there are several ways it could be calculated, so that it is weighted toward later years of service. CARE takes yearly contributions and adds those years together so it grows during the period.

In response to a question about the views of other teacher unions, General Secretary Brian Lightman said that the priority is to agree a settlement that all unions can sign up to.

The question was raised regarding ASCL’s response if schemes were imposed by government. Brian said that either a negotiated or imposed settlement would necessitate consultation with members and possibly an emergency meeting of Executive, especially with reference to a possible ballot if there was an imposed scheme.

Council gave its approval of the negotiations to date and ASCL’s stance regarding retirement age and tiered contributions within the career average system.

It agreed the priority was to move forward in the same way to broker an agreement. The position taken by Council at the last meeting was to go to ballot if negotiations falter and Council said that position had not changed. ASCL would consult the membership by survey when a suitable stage in the negotiations is reached.

University admissions

Plenary debate
Past President John Morgan led the debate on the Admissions Process Review Consultation, giving an overview of proposed changes for 2014 and the UCAS proposals for post-results application. Prior to the Council debate, the committee was reminded that ASCL has long argued for some form of post-qualification application as it is fairer for students.

The 2014 proposals include a single offer date and no one would be given an offer until the middle of March. Whilst there could be some logistical issues with IT these should be ironed out over the next couple years.

There was general support for the principle of post-results application but practical concerns would need to be addressed, particularly about shortened A level teaching time.

It was felt that not enough consideration had been given to universities delaying the start date. These views were presented to representatives of UCAS during a meeting at headquarters on 15 December.

  • The full minutes from all the committees and the full Council plenary sessions are available at: www.ascl.org.uk/council
  • The next meeting will be held in Warwick on 1-2 March.

New year old topics