2020 Spring Term 1


  • A future from the heart
    Here's the latest information from our colleagues across the nation. ASCL is proud to represent school and college leaders from all over the UK. More
  • Paws for thought
    ASCL General Secretary Geoff Barton on how the Association will take the lead, working with and holding the new government to account to shape the education system we all want and need. More
  • Winning team
    Rugby star turned star broadcaster Maggie Alphonsi talks to Julie Nightingale about being the disruptive kid who became a World Cup medal-winning sports star and what it has taught her about leadership, self-confidence and mental strength. More
  • Moral compass
    Everyone in the exam and assessment world must take an ethical approach if malpractice is to be prevented, says former ASCL general secretary John Dunford. Here he highlights the findings of an independent commission. More
  • An inspector calls
    The thought of a 90-minute pre-inspection phone call with a lead inspector may not seem like something to celebrate but it needn't be too daunting. Here, ASCL Inspection Specialist Stephen Rollett shares his insights. More
  • Wishful thinking
    After four years of Area Reviews, what does the further education sector now look like? Here ASCL's Senior Adviser on College Leadership, Dr Anne Murdoch, OBE, shares her insights. More
  • Close encounters
    How do we ensure that students get the most out of their encounters with the world of work? CEO of the Education and Employers Charity Nick Chambers shares the latest evidence. More
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ASCL General Secretary Geoff Barton on how the Association will take the lead, working with and holding the new government to account to shape the education system we all want and need. 

Paws for thought

If you were to ask my two children – now 26 and 22 years old – what sentence they most remember me repeating through their childhood years, it would probably be: “Over my dead body will we get a dog.”

Well, the boys have left home and, yes, we now we have a dog: Molly B, a Yorkshire Terrier.

And, on the day we collected her, I was struck by something the vet said to us. Looking us in the eye she said, “In this puppy you now create the dog you want in the future.”

It was a comment that vaguely baffled then and makes much more sense to me now. Four months on, I’ve come to see how much simpler the world view of dogs is. Every morning the day starts afresh, with these people that she knows are reliable – they feed her, they take her for walks, they throw toys and praise her when she skitters madly across the kitchen to fetch them.

New tricks

This is the simple, clear view of the world from the perspective of a young dog.

And I see how her habits and routines, her tricks and acts of obedience or defiance, haven’t happened by accident. As that wise young vet put it, we are creating the dog through our expectations of the puppy.

Or as Wordsworth put it: “The child is the father of the man.” Or as Barack Obama put it: “Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?”

Now, this isn’t – you’ll be relieved to hear – an article extolling the achievements of Molly B at her weekly puppy classes. It’s not a ‘how I’ve become more human by owning a dog’ reflection. In fact, Molly B can stay out of the story from now on.

Because this is a piece about us – leaders of the UK’s schools and colleges. It’s about how we might shape the kind of future we want by the decisions we make now.

That’s an idea that will resonate with our Welsh members. As we were so powerfully reminded at November’s ASCL Cymru Conference, Wales has set itself an ambitious programme of reform. Everything, it seems, is up for grabs – the curriculum, qualifications, conditions of service, you name it.

And the starting point? A simple question: what kind of Welsh citizens does the nation want to create by the time they are 19?

It’s born out of an underlying optimism that the future isn’t something that just happens with monotonous, uncontrollable inevitability. Through education – the thinking in Wales and Scotland goes – we can create the future we want.

And one of the benefits of leading ASCL is looking in on, reflecting, and learning from these diverging systems and then, through our Council of elected members, bringing together the key lessons from such a crucible of various reforms.

And there’s a couple of good reasons why at this time we should give renewed energy to the process of learning from one another. The first is that ASCL has embarked on an ambitious process to follow up on our original Blueprint for a Self-Improving System (www.ascl.org.uk/blueprint), a document that helped to create a roadmap for a suddenly atomised English education system. You can read more about the need to take stock, reflecting on what the main levers of moving the education system from good to great might be in Julie McCulloch’s article on page 6.

But there’s another reason for us to remind ourselves that whether it’s in dogs, humans or education, we can shape the future more than we realise. We don’t have to be passive recipients of other people’s ideas. And that feels more the case now than a couple of months ago.

Because that whopping majority delivered by the electorate to the Conservative government could prove far more significant as an opportunity for education than we realised.

This isn’t, by the way, a political point; our members across the UK will all have different views of what the Johnson government stands for and how it conducts itself. This is an argument about opportunity rather than policy.

From where I sit, that majority and the redrawn political map may change everything. It may, for example, signal that we are finally moving out of an age of managerialism – where, differently from the boldness of Scotland and Wales – the English system has too often fixated on tinkering with accountability measures, adding new forms of financial auditing, putting more in without taking some things out. It too often feels bloated, crushing, untrusting.

Well, now there’s a Prime Minister who seems to like big shiny things – eye-catching projects, audacious reforms. And there’s a party in power that suddenly finds itself with constituencies it hasn’t served before, including many Midlands and Northern constituencies who for too long may have felt that education wasn’t part of the solution in their lives: it was part of the problem.

Fair play

The government will need to deliver real change in those communities. And that’s where we come in. Because ASCL’s revised blueprint will be predicated on the concept of fairness – how do we make education work for all children and young people from all backgrounds?

Our commitment to The Forgotten Third (www.ascl.org.uk/ForgottenThird) and the concept of an English passport qualification are directly designed to give the dignity of achievement to those left behind. And our deep commitment to technical and vocational education, our championing of further education colleges – suddenly all of these move to the centre of the political debate.

So while of course we’ll continue to campaign on funding, recruitment, young people’s mental health, workload and all the issues that show no sign of disappearing just yet, you’ll see ASCL setting the bigger agenda, engaging with government to bring the insights and expertise of our members across the UK into direct contact with policymakers.

We’ll be showing how what we do now can shape a brighter future. For which, my belated thanks to Molly B’s vet. 

Geoff Barton (and Molly)
ASCL General Secretary