2019 Spring Term 2


  • Brave new world
    Geoff Barton highlights an innovative new study partnership between ASCL and tech giant Apple that could bring about a revolutionary new way of leading and teaching. More
  • The true cost of education
    ASCL Funding Specialist Julia Harnden highlights her analysis on what education in the 21st century should look like and how much it will cost. More
  • We are Sparticus
    Coordinator of the WorthLess? campaign, Headteacher and ASCL member Jules White says the movement has enabled headteachers to find their own independent voice and speak up on issues that truly matter to education. More
  • The moral maze
    Chair of ASCL's Ethical Leadership Commission Carolyn Roberts writes about the practical programmes that school and college leaders can join to help them navigate through the moral maze. More
  • Renewed optimism
    In January, the DfE unveiled its long-awaited Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy. Carole Willis, Chief Executive of the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), provides her thoughts on the renewed focus on retention. More
  • Deeper understanding
    Educational neuroscience draws evidence from several fields of study to deepen our understanding of learning and teaching and debunk some 'neuromyths'. Educationalists Professor Derek Bell and Richard Newton Chance explain the latest thinking about thinking. More
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Coordinator of the WorthLess? campaign, Headteacher and ASCL member Jules White says the movement has enabled headteachers to find their own independent voice and speak up on issues that truly matter to education.

We are Sparticus

A vitally important role of any headteacher is to ensure that the ‘right’ adults join your school.

Frequently then, I find myself asking the traditional interview question, “Why do you want to join us?” Often, this elicits the same old rather bland response, “To make a difference.” Sometimes, the person saying this is very convincing; at other times it’s more difficult to tell.

Consequently, I get grumpy at myself for asking such a predictable question. The saving grace is when I reflect more fully and turn this fundamental question back on myself. “How am I making a difference?”

After a decade or so in headship, I’m very proud of what my school, Tanbridge House School in West Sussex, has achieved and the differences that we have made. I blanch, however, at how often I have had to ‘play the Ofsted game’ or put in place hugely administrative and time-consuming practices that have not always been necessary.

When I set up the campaign group, WorthLess? in 2015, I wanted to make a difference and I wanted to do it on my own terms. As such, the campaign has been underpinned by three core aims:

  1. Sufficient funding for all schools.
  2. Much improved teacher supply and retention.
  3. Significantly enhanced social mobility.

After cajoling and badgering supportive local heads to write joint campaign letters to parents and politicians in sleepy West Sussex, four years on, we seem to have hit upon something that many more school leaders want to pro-actively support.

Strong and united

Today, WorthLess? is comprised of headteachers from special, primary and secondary schools in 64 local authorities and boroughs. At the click of a button, we can communicate with several million people across several thousand schools. A very broad coalition of schools are strongly united by the shared aims that took us into the profession in the first place – empowering every child to reach their potential regardless of their ‘starting point’.

WorthLess? seems to have had some success, too: education has never been higher in the public consciousness. Pressures on various elements of our chronically underfunded system have been slightly eased by recent government contributions to public sector pay, employers’ pension charges (2019/20) and the high needs block. There have also been significant modifications to the DfE’s spending plans (saving enormous sums of money) that were driven by mainly ideological considerations. These include the withdrawal of millions of pounds that was earmarked for forced academisation, and plans for grammar school expansion that are now tied to disadvantaged places. The WorthLess? campaign has received strong support from grammar school headteachers and from academy leaders, and they are very much part of our campaign.

At this point, it is also vital to acknowledge that our professional associations, including ASCL, other groups and parent campaigners, have all impacted just as positively on our common desire to improve education funding.

If WorthLess? has achieved anything unique, it is that our ‘relentlessly reasonable’ campaign has enabled headteachers to finally find their own independent voice.

Over many years, we have put up with staggeringly weak political leadership and policy from the DfE. On top of this, a mixture of fear and a duty to not rock the boat has allowed a pernicious accountability system to take hold.

By finally speaking out publicly about the issues that affect us all, we are beginning to make a difference. We have also learned that, on the whole, we are respected and trusted, especially by the parents, carers and local communities that we serve. Accordingly, together with the support of associations such as ASCL, our profession is growing in confidence and influence.

Force to be reckoned with

By taking a lead, I believe that we can continue to improve matters. In September 2018, over 2,000 headteachers marched on Westminster and showed that we are a force to be reckoned with.

I was pleased that ASCL was able to support the event and that General Secretary Geoff Barton was able to join us. At the time, Geoff paid tribute to those headteachers who attended and said, “they showed truly bold leadership” and that it was “inspiring” to see so many heads at the event. However, like many of us who attended, he too thought it was “a terrible indictment that the only way we feel we can get the Treasury to accept the impact of real terms funding reductions to our schools, was by a march like this”.

Afterall, let’s face it, none of us wanted to be there, but we felt we had no choice if we want to get the government to listen and face up to the fact that schools can no longer continue to survive on such low levels of funding.

A recent survey of 2,000 headteachers by the WorthLess? campaign demonstrated the scale of the problems we face:

  • 87% of headteachers say they have less money in real terms than last year (2017–18)
  • 72% of headteachers say that their school’s budget is more likely to go into deficit in 2019–20 compared to previous years
  • 94% of headteachers say their schools are now routinely delivering services previously provided by their local authority
  • 84% of headteachers say capacity to meet special educational needs and disability (SEND) needs are now much reduced

Against this background, it is crucial that grass roots leaders take the lead and help to forge a much brighter overall education system. Successive governments have tried to drive us in directions that do not best serve the children and colleagues in our care. Their strategic decisions have often lacked coherence and have negatively affected recruitment, retention and social mobility.

A fractured and fragmented system has exacerbated our problems and real terms funding cuts are a threat to every school, every child and young person.

By working together with ASCL, other organisations, wider campaign groups and with parents and carers, we can make a real difference to the future of our children’s education. Should you feel that WorthLess? can help with this process, it would be great to hear from you.

Jules White
Headteacher of Tanbridge House School in West Sussex, and Coordinator of the WorthLess? campaign
Email: jwhite@ths.uk.net