2024 Spring Term


  • The Greatest Job in Education
    As Geoff Barton bids farewell, he reflects on his seven years as General Secretary, thanking members for their support for what he says has been the greatest job in education - serving you. More
  • The Next Chapter
    ASCL General Secretary Designate Pepe Di'Iasio is immensely proud to represent members across the UK and in all sectors of education. Here he sets out his plans for the future of the association. More
  • A lasting legacy
    As ASCL's oldest and one of its longest-standing members, 94 year-old past president Geoff Goodall's encounter with an interviewer set him on a path that would see him at the forefront of education reform, and a career that spanned over five decades. Here, he talks to Dorothy Lepkowska. More
  • ASCL Women Trailblazers
    Chair of ASCL's Women Leaders' Network Becky Arnold reflects on the inspirational and vital role women have played throughout ASCL's 150-year history. More
  • Perfect Match
    Proud ASCL member and Senior Deputy Headteacher Helen Wakefield takes readers through her own changing relationship with trade unions. More
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The Greatest Job in Education

As Geoff Barton bids farewell, he reflects on his seven years as General Secretary, thanking members for their support for what he says has been the greatest job in education - serving you.

Back in April 2017, on my first nervous morning as your new General Secretary, I was sitting in ASCL’s Regent Road headquarters in Leicester. As part of my induction, I was being briefed about some constitutional matters. And then, suddenly, someone clattered urgently down the wooden staircase, flung open the door, and said: “Have you heard? She’s called an election.” 

The ‘she’ was Prime Minister Theresa May. Buoyed up by a significant lead in the opinion polls, she gambled that this would translate into a trouncing of Labour’s much-mocked leader Jeremy Corbyn and serve her up another comfortable five years in Number 10. 

It didn’t. Her gamble failed. And the resulting UK Parliament entered a period of tortuous Brexit-fuelled paralysis that did few politicians – or indeed our politics – much credit. 

Your 21st-century trade union 

But Mrs May’s ill-fated election decision triggered a decision at our Leicester HQ that we were pleased with then and are pleased with now. It set our path to a way of working that has been a defining feature of ASCL’s approach ever since. 

With an election a few weeks away, to try to move education up the pecking order of issues that matter, we hit upon the idea of an ASCL education manifesto, setting out five key policies we believed would improve our education system. We would send it to MPs and parents and use it in our media interviews. 

None of that is especially radical, of course. Most organisations create a list of priorities that they put into a snazzy leaflet and fire off in a volley of optimism. 

But what was different about our five manifesto ‘asks’ was that at HQ, we decided four of them. Then, in our weekly email message to members, we said something simple: you tell us what the fifth one should be. 

It was the beginning of an interactive journey that isn’t yet finished, a developing ongoing dialogue with our membership, wherever you are, whatever your role. 

Technology – first emails, then video, then social media, then webinars, then podcasts and soon an ASCL app that will allow instant responses – all of these would help us to explore what a 21st-century trade union looks like, how being an ASCL member should feel, not just that you are a passive recipient of information but a respected partner in an ongoing conversation. 

I look back at that manifesto and it’s hardly different from what we might be saying in the run up to this year’s general election. We called on all political parties to pledge sufficient and fair funding; improve teacher recruitment and retention; base education policy on evidence; provide curriculum stability; and develop a long-term, shared vision for education. 

At the time, this interaction with members seemed pretty groundbreaking to us, even if it now seems quite mundane. 

Helping you through a crisis 

But then in early 2020, suddenly, the world was about to change. Coronavirus had reached the UK. 

On Wednesday 18 March, the buzz of our Annual Conference in Birmingham still echoing in our ears, I was asked to go to Whitehall urgently, with colleagues from other education unions, to the office of the then Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson. 

My guess was that he was going to say that the summer’s examinations might have to be postponed, some even cancelled, but, instead, he said: “I need you to instruct your members to close their schools and colleges on Friday. There will be a national lockdown.” 

Shaken, I took a half-empty train back to Leicester and from my office at HQ we filmed the first of our pandemic videos explaining what I’d been told. It was a pattern that, for day after relentless day, would become a ritual. Behind the scenes, the ASCL team was coordinating with officials, marshalling what we knew, quoting members’ feedback, summarising a deluge of information into ‘three things’ that I should say, then editing, adding captions and subtitles – all aimed at making sense of a bewildering world. 

Sometimes in those videos I’d ask for your feedback and invite you to ‘tell us’ how things were for you. I’d then sit and watch the ASCL inbox as dozens and occasionally hundreds of your responses tumbled in. This now was a conversation with the membership like no other, allowing us to reflect your insights back to officials and ministers. 

And so we have continued, and I look nostalgically back to that innocent age of 2017 BC (Before Covid) and the subsequent roller coaster of ministers, crises, political missteps and crumbling ceilings. It’s been quite a ride. 

Privilege serving you 

But now it’s time for me to step out of ASCL’s historical slipstream. I’ve had the privilege of working here with some of the most talented, inspiring people you could hope to have as colleagues. We’ve been quietly reforming our association, modernising the way we do things, relentlessly trying to make us more representative of our diverse society, seeking ways to innovate and provide a better service at the best value we can achieve. 

Most importantly, I’ve had the chance to work with and listen to you, our extraordinary 25,000 members, public servants who get far too little credit for the quietly transformational impact you so often have on the lives of children and young people. 

When I became General Secretary, one of my great predecessors, Sir John Dunford, wrote to me: “Congratulations: you have one of the greatest jobs in education.” 

He was right. And now, as ASCL celebrates its 150th year, I hand that mantle onto Pepe Di’Iasio, a superb former president, a deeply empathetic leader, and great friend. He is just the person to enable ASCL to refresh its mission, to lead the association into the next phase of its long-standing commitment to speak on behalf of members and act on behalf of children and young people. I couldn’t be prouder that on 8 April, I hand over to him as your new General Secretary. In her poem, Tomorrow is Beautiful, Sarah Crossan says this: “Beyond the wall of now, tomorrow is waiting.” 

All my thanks and good luck to you – our wonderful, uplifting, opinionated, compassionate and sometimes feisty members. I’m going to miss you. My personal best wishes in embracing and navigating all the tomorrows that are out there waiting for you. 

Geoff Barton
ASCL General Secretary

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