2020 Spring Term 2


  • Rebel with a cause
    Lemn Sissay left behind a troubled childhood to find success as a poet, writer and broadcaster with work highlighting, in particular, the plight of children in care and inequality. He talks to Julie Nightingale. More
  • Trees of diversity
    Making school and college leadership more diverse will ensure our decision-making is better informed and more effective, says ASCL President Rachael Warwick. Here she highlights how ASCL is shining a light on diversity. More
  • Teacher autonomy
    What role does teacher autonomy play in keeping teachers motivated and in the profession? Jack Worth from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) investigates. More
  • Cyber secure?
    Cyber security expert Claire Ashton says protecting your school or college from a cyber attack is vital in order to avoid serious consequences. Here, she shares top tips on how you can protect yourself. More
  • Curriculum, Pedagogy, Assessment
    Professor Dylan Wiliam says school and college leaders need to make explicit trade-offs to improve learning in classrooms. More
  • Blueprint for a fairer education system
    ASCL General Secretary Geoff Barton says while many old habits are hard to break, together we can create new and better ones. Here, he highlights ASCL's work on a new blueprint for education. More
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Making school and college leadership more diverse will ensure our decision-making is better informed and more effective, says ASCL President Rachael Warwick. Here she highlights how ASCL is shining a light on diversity.

Trees of diversity

Writer and broadcaster Matthew Syed tells a lot of good stories about the power of diverse thinking in his book Rebel Ideas. Here’s one of them.

In 2016, he was one of a group of non-football people invited to join The Football Association (FA) board advising Gareth Southgate and others. It followed England crashing out of the 2016 European Championship with an ignominious defeat to Iceland.

The advisory group did not go down well with the football community. “The FA does not need experts in cycling, rugby union and table tennis to advise it on why a bunch of footballers are so hapless at tournaments,” wrote Henry Winter in The Times.

Syed observes that the FA could certainly have recruited people overflowing with footballing know-how and experience. But herein lies the issue. They would know very little that Southgate didn’t already know

“Their presence would almost certainly have led to a mirroring dynamic, inadvertently entrenching the latent assumptions within the English game,” writes Syed.

Diverse groups, on the other hand, express radically different properties

“It was fascinating to see how people who were not expert in football were nevertheless able to pierce through to some of the underlying weaknesses, whether in recruitment or coaching methods, or bring a fresh perspective to media relations or preparing for a penalty shoot-out,” says Syed.

School and college leadership

The reason for quoting this story is not just that it is a good anecdote, or that Syed was one of our speakers at this year’s ASCL Annual Conference, but because it reflects an issue in school and college leadership.

The fact is that we are often not a very diverse bunch of people, and this matters not only because we are not representative of our pupils (although that is also an important consideration), but because we tend to be like-minded individuals with similar views and solutions.

It is easy to derive a false assurance from being in a group of people from similar backgrounds and with similar world views, because everybody agrees with one another. Syed gives us the example of the poll tax review group in the 1980s, which failed to foresee the disastrous implications of the poll tax, but who apparently “loved working together”.

The trouble is that the “warm glow of homophily” is not the best environment for good decision-making – as that example aptly demonstrates.

In school and college leadership there are some obvious factors that contribute to similarity. We have all been to university, which in turn means many of us come from middle-class families, and we have spent our working lives in schools where there are established ways of working and thinking.

Cultural backgrounds

But what is more troubling – and what we can perhaps do more about – is just how unrepresentative we are in terms of cultural backgrounds.

About a third of pupils in English state funded schools are from minority ethnic origins. The corresponding figure for primary heads is 7% and for secondary heads it is 9%. Things don’t improve that much among deputies and assistants (9% in primaries and 12% in secondaries).

This means that many of our senior leadership teams are predominately from white British backgrounds despite the fact that we live in a multi-cultural society. And, in secondary schools, the majority of our headteachers are men (61%), despite the fact that most teachers are women.

This homogeneity does not mean senior leadership teams make poor decisions. The fact that 86% of English schools are rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted suggests our decision-making is pretty good. 

But it means that we are likely to have blind spots – perspectives of which we may be unaware and that are pertinent to the lives and experiences of many of the young people we educate. Diversity is not only a matter of equality; it also makes our decision-making better informed and more effective.

Improving diversity

Making leadership teams more diverse is not a quick fix. There is a long timeline between a graduate deciding to become a teacher and reaching a senior leadership position. But we have to start somewhere, and it is for this reason that the theme of my year as ASCL President is equality, diversity and inclusion.

We have started that process by looking at what we can directly change, by seeing how we can make ASCL Council – our policy-making body made up of serving school and college leaders – as diverse as possible.

We are using our system-wide influence to connect and collaborate with other organisations that are committed to positive change: grassroots groups like Leading Women’s Alliance; Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic Educators (BAMEed); WomenEd; LGBTed; and others.

We are producing guidance for school and college leaders, governors and trustees about best recruitment practice, inclusive workplace cultures and our responsibilities under the Equalities Act.

We are collecting and sharing case studies of flexible working and collaborating with WomenEd and the Chartered College of Teaching, to publish these and draw attention to the many benefits of flexible working to staff and schools.

And ASCL Annual Conference shone a light on diverse leadership. We had a range of powerful speakers from diverse backgrounds delivering keynotes, as well as workshops led by colleagues with whom we are working in collaboration.

Plant trees

As we started with a sporting reference, we may as well finish with another. This time it is from James Kerr’s book Legacy, which examines what lessons we can derive from the success of the New Zealand All Blacks. “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they will never see,” he writes. 

While I hesitate to describe us all as ‘old men’, the point is clear – it is up to us to set the course for the future. 

Download the guidance and case studies at ww.ascl.org.uk/EqualityDiversityInclusion and share them with your governors. Review and revisit your own school culture and ask yourself, is it really inclusive enough? And, make a positive change and watch those trees begin to grow.

Further information



Rachael Warwick
ASCL President 2019/20 and Executive Headteacher, Ridgeway Education Trust