2020 Summer Term


  • We're here to help
    Geoff Barton says school and college leaders have risen to the challenges of the current pandemic and have provided calm and principled leadership. Here he highlights how ASCL has and will continue to support you throughout. More
  • Stronger together
    Senior leaders Abigail Boddy and Catherine Carre believe that having two heads rather than one can offer a healthy, powerful and sustainable approach to school leadership. More
  • The missing link
    MFL Consultant, Suzanne O'Farrell highlights ASCL's Key Stage 2/3 Flexible Transition Toolkit, which provides primary leaders with an expert overview of what knowledge and skills could equip their learners for a good start in Key Stage 3, and provides strong deliverable foundations for language learning at secondary. More
  • Technically speaking...
    With so much uncertainty concerning the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Suzanne Straw, from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), reflects on the findings of NFER's research on T levels, and the implications of the current context on the roll out of the first T levels in September. More
  • Be LGBT inclusive
    Deputy Headteacher David Lowbridge-Ellis shares ten simple ways you can support your LGBT staff and pupils. More
  • Strengthening bonds
    Chair of the Teaching Schools Council, Richard Gill, sees the new Teaching School Hubs as an opportunity to evolve the education system. Here he explains his thinking around the hubs and talks to one school leader taking part in the test and learn hubs. More
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Geoff Barton says school and college leaders have risen to the challenges of the current pandemic and have provided calm and principled leadership. Here he highlights how ASCL has and will continue to support you throughout.

We're here to help

"It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” So said the baseball-playing philosopher, Yogi Berra. And, in truth, he’s not wrong.

If at Christmas you’d said that within three months the population of the UK, in keeping with much of the rest of Western Europe, would be staying at home, following instructions to keep two metres apart from anyone apart from immediate family and using a vocabulary of new words and phrases like ‘self-isolation’, ‘shielding’ and ‘social distancing’, we’d have thought you’d been reading too many dystopian science-fiction novels or perhaps knocking back too much festive brandy.

But here we are in a place that people keep describing as ‘the new normal’.

And from where I sit, this has been an opportunity for the teaching profession and its leaders to demonstrate to the wider public that they can look to us for a kind of calm, principled leadership that in uncertain times they’ve been craving.

Which is what we’ve tried to exemplify as an Association.

Because as the Chief Executive of Apple, Tim Cook, once said: “The sidelines are not where you want to live your life. The world needs you in the arena.”

And so, throughout the Covid-19 crisis, that’s where leaders across the UK, in all types of schools and colleges, have been – most definitely in the arena, with the eyes of our communities upon us.

Operation Dunford

From the outset, we knew that ASCL would need to adapt quickly to support you. In an atomised education system, amid a welter of angry opinion and misinformation, we knew you’d be needing as much clear, dispassionate guidance as we could bring you.

After all, the stakes were too high for you and your teams to be taking decisions on education grounds that might have severe public health implications for your pupils, students and staff.

We therefore initiated ‘Operation Dunford’. Some of you will recall (because I mention it very often) that my proud predecessor as ASCL General Secretary, Sir John Dunford, used to say that leadership is 10% action and 90% communication. That emphasis on explaining, describing, clarifying and endlessly reaffirming key messages is something the ASCL Team – our whole team – has made our priority.

We initiated our daily updates – by email and video – which we used in order to tell you what we thought was happening, inviting your comments and queries to a dedicated email address, and then passing the questions we couldn’t answer to the DfE, building its responses into an increasingly extensive set of FAQs.

We set up a series of Team ASCL webinars, giving our members space to interact with us on a range of issues from funding arrangements for free school meals to caring for your own mental health.

Your feedback tells us that you appreciated all of this emphasis on responsive communication. And the rapid growth in our membership – rising above 20,000 members in May – showed that you were recommending us to colleagues who then joined us in droves.

For me, each day has felt as if I was having a personal conversation with members. Here, with our largest number of members in the Association’s history, it felt like a 1:1 dialogue with each of you – sometimes clarifying, sometimes explaining and sometimes agreeing with you where we’d not been clear enough or where we’d got a message wrong.

Shaping the future

Never has the Dunford mantra been more relevant. And your responses have helped to define a bigger narrative, one that goes beyond speaking to other members. Your emails, tweets, phone messages, comments to our Hotline – all of these have helped to shape what we have been advising to government, Ofsted, Ofqual and awarding bodies, in terms of the future shape of education.

And that’s the phase we now find ourselves in.

With the wider reopening of schools and colleges underway, we begin to clear the mental space to look at where the UK education system goes from here. Wales was already in the midst of an ambitious reform programme, as was Scotland. Northern Ireland, meanwhile, had – back in January – finally regained some political leadership and has been able to begin to address some of its deep-rooted problems of underfunding and overprovision of places.

And in England, there’s an opportunity for us to do something similar. At our Annual Conference in March, we talked about our new ASCL Blueprint for a Fairer Education System, which we’ll publish in autumn. It was time, we said, to take stock of the emerging education landscape, to evaluate its strengths and to identify its weaknesses. In particular, we asked, what now is needed to make an education service that works for all our young people, which finally and proudly serves the needs of the forgotten third?

As the Covid-19 crisis evolves, we’ll hear more people talking in extreme terms. This, they will say, is the opportunity to abandon all exams, to ditch performance tables, to relegate Ofsted to the dustbin of history. We’d urge caution in all such grandiose hopes. Our starting-point as an Association – one that ‘acts on behalf of young people’ – will be just that: what changes to our education provision will better serve the nation’s young people and better prepare them to take their place as well-informed, principled future citizens?

And that’s where Covid-19 may just help to focus our minds. Because the crisis has exposed the disparity in our ability to deploy technology to blend learning in the classroom with learning at home. Digital learning will need to have a much higher profile. Covid-19 has reminded us of things that matter – the deep humanity of our schools and colleges and, therefore, the elements too easily squeezed to the margins – physical activity, creativity, independent learning, active citizenship. We’ll perhaps see that we allowed our education system to be too easily defined by narrow metrics – an obsession with what could be easily measured. And we’ll see that now is the time to build on an increased trust for teachers and a form of educational leadership which reaches deeply and reassuringly into our communities.

These have been difficult days. We’ve found ourselves too often in reactive mode, reacting to circumstances beyond our control. But as we begin to emerge, here’s our opportunity to build an evidence-based case for what our education system could now look like, with a sense of social justice at its heart.

The Covid-19 crisis has been terrible and unnerving. Let’s make its legacy one of optimism.

Get in touch with us

The ASCL Hotline is available for you on 0116 299 1122


See essential information on our website at www.ascl.org.uk/coronavirus

Geoff Barton
ASCL General Secretary