June 2017


  • Core values
    As statements of values go, ours at ASCL is simply magnificent, says Geoff Barton. It crystallises what we do, what we stand for and how we work: “We speak on behalf of members; we act on behalf of children and young people.” More
  • Leading the way
    Headteacher and ASCL member Janet Sheriff shares her journey on becoming the first ever black and minority ethnic (BME) secondary headteacher in Leeds and the only female headteacher her school had ever appointed. More
  • Time for change
    Tim Ramsey from LGBT+ organisation Just Like Us says that schools and colleges are key in facilitating open discussion and promoting tolerance and respect. Here, Tim shares his personal experience and says that leaders need to reaffirm their commitment to this issue. More
  • Refocus assessment
    Research Manager Dr David Thomas says that schools have been given an important opportunity to develop a bespoke assessment strategy focusing on pupils’ needs. Here he highlights a new resource designed to help schools achieve this. More
  • Invaluable experience
    ASCL Annual Conference is a priceless opportunity not to be missed says Headteacher and ASCL member Pepe Di’Iasio. Here he provides a summary of the highlights from this year’s event held in March. More
  • Building character
    Headmaster Dr Julian Murphy explains why helping students develop a toolkit of habits to ensure that they flourish is so important and how it can be incorporated into everyday teaching. More
Bookmark and Share

ASCL Annual Conference is a priceless opportunity not to be missed says Headteacher and ASCL member Pepe Di’Iasio. Here he provides a summary of the highlights from this year’s event held in March.

Invaluable experience

There can be no doubt that the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Birmingham is the ultimate venue for a conference of such a huge scale. More than 1,000 of us attended this year. ASCL President Sian Carr opened the event by sharing her vision for the theme of the conference: ‘Next generation leadership’. During her address, Sian said that, as current leaders, we had a responsibility to attract and inspire the next generation of leaders. She said, “If we embrace this approach, our education system will be stronger and more sustainable as a result.”

Sian was followed by the then General Secretary Designate Geoff Barton in what was a brief but powerful two minutes where he reminded us all of our raison d’être: “Speaking on behalf of members, acting on behalf of children and young people.”

In a packed venue, Interim General Secretary Malcom Trobe stepped forward and immediately captured the collective concerns of us all with his customary depth and clarity:

  • fair funding for all
  • a recruitment strategy for new teachers and leaders
  • a sensible and appropriate capital programme; not simply new free or grammar schools
  • an efficient and effective accountability system

As always, Malcolm presented practical, sensible and simple solutions for complex, unresolved and long-standing issues, and outlined how ASCL could work with government to address these priorities.

Key drivers

Like many of us, the primary reason for attending conference was for the priceless opportunity to spend quality time networking with colleagues, as well as hearing, first-hand, from government leaders regarding how they see our landscape and what they view are priorities for the future. This year, we weren’t disappointed with Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening’s first ASCL conference address. She focused on:

  • a core commitment to professional development for teachers and leaders
  • ensuring clear and rewarding career pathways for those entering our profession
  • a practical approach to supporting recruitment and the retention of high-quality staff

What resonated most with me was that she is passionate about social mobility and her belief that teachers and leaders are the key drivers. As a headteacher, I was particularly proud to hear Justine reflect on her own experience of school. She said that she had been lucky enough to have wonderful teachers who inspired her, “like Mr Tranter”, the French teacher she warmly recalled. She said that many of her teachers helped build who she is today.

Following the speech, I, along with other Council members, was privileged to have a private meeting with the Secretary of State and the opportunity to ask her questions. What was particularly clear to me from this meeting was her strong sense of strategy and steely determination to help find practical solutions to our current challenges – through listening, collaborating and planning. This is not something I could recall thinking when meeting her predecessors at previous conferences.

The ‘real’ task

The conference was also our first opportunity to hear from the newly appointed Amanda Spielman in her first major keynote as Ofsted’s Chief HMCI. I think it is fair to say that I haven’t always seen ‘eye to eye’ with her predecessor Sir Michael Wilshaw, so I was eagerly anticipating the tone and direction that Amanda would take in her leadership.

Again, the key headlines within Amanda’s speech were incredibly constructive and certainly very positively received by conference. She said, “Data should be the starting point of an inspection not the destination” and “Inspections being informed by data but not led by them” – both key principles we all shared. Several colleagues were particularly pleased to hear directly from Amanda that Ofsted should not divert headteachers from their ‘real’ task and that it did not intend to make inspections unnecessarily difficult or laborious, something that was greeted warmly throughout the conference hall.

Evidence and research

The first breakout session I attended was led by Dr Rebecca Allen (Becky) and it focused on the hot topic of Progress 8 and curriculum. At a time when strategy needs to be based on strong evidence and research, Becky’s seminar provided a powerful insight into key curriculum decisions currently faced by headteachers: how can we ensure that our students retain the breadth and depth in their learning against the demands of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc)? And, more importantly for me, in what is an increasingly data-led accountability world, how do we ensure that data is used more accurately and appropriately to evidence how a school is performing?

In what was only a 40-minute session, I was not just ‘blown away’ by the depth and breadth of Becky’s knowledge in terms of research evidence, but also by the quality of the questions she asks as a result of this information. I went away with a promise to myself to learn more from her and make sure we invite her back to Yorkshire as quickly as possible.


I can still recall from my first ever ASCL Annual Conference that my main reason for attending was to select and ‘cram’ into a weekend the equivalent of a week’s worth of training. This year was no different, with highly respected experts from ASCL, including Deputy Director of Policy Duncan Baldwin leading on the latest developments in data and Curriculum and Assessment Specialist Suzanne O’Farrell guiding us through the maze that is the recent curriculum changes.

On top of national leaders in their field, other highlights for me included having the pleasure of introducing fellow colleague and school leader Vic Goddard who presented on the topic of ‘safeguarding’, as well as the opportunity to hear my ‘Twitter’ hero Ross McGill (aka @ TeacherToolkit) sharing a range of straightforward, practical strategies for school improvement.

Future leaders

Day two of the conference provided a fresh opportunity to include emerging senior leaders as part of the ‘leading from the middle strategy’. I took the opportunity to invite several middle leaders from my own school to experience conference for the first time. As we gathered for a drink to reflect on our day, we commented on how we had enjoyed the diverse nature of the breakout sessions and, particularly, how colleagues liked that they had each been able to identify sessions that both addressed their own key responsibilities in school and that reflected current educational challenges across the country.

We all agreed that we could think of no finer way of bringing the conference to a conclusion than having the opportunity to meet and hear from activist for female education Malala Yousafzai who reminded us all, in case we needed it, of the power of education, and the children and young people at the heart of all our work. As we left Birmingham for Yorkshire, we smiled as a tweet from ASCL reminded us to save the date for next year’s conference – it’s certainly an event we will not want to miss.

Save the date ASCL Annual Conference 2018 is on 9–10 March at the ICC, Birmingham. Register your interest online now at www.ascl.org.uk/annualconference2018

2017 conference catch-up: Presentations and speeches, where available, can be found on our website together with a highlights video – see www.ascl.org.uk/annualconference

Pepe Di’Iasio is an ASCL Council member and Headteacher of Wales High School in Sheffield.