Jobs have a bit of a habit of finding me. The opportunity to Chair the @HeadsRoundtable Group was one that proved a bit too irresistible. This powerful group of head teachers was established as a non-party political think tank to influence national education policy so that it centres upon what is best for the learning of all children.
Launching a series of well thought through manifestos, in time for the May 2015 General Election, under the chairmanship of John Tomsett, it celebrated its third birthday at the Guardian Offices in October 2015.
Sheltering from the Storm
Our meeting in Manchester on Friday highlighted the increasing pressures within the system. Not everyone was able to make it as the day job, which always takes precedence, left too little time for some to engage with the wider issues of the system on this occasion. It’s of concern how little time school leaders and teachers have to think and engage with wider educational issues as the latest round of centrally driven policy initiatives or local demands hit them and sap their energy. Our education system is poorer when it isn’t influenced by the collective experience and wisdom of teachers and school leaders.
The talk of the perfect storm is becoming louder; the distant storm clouds associated with lack of funding, unnecessary workload, recruitment and retention, excessive central imposition and never ending external accountability are no longer over the horizon nor in the distant. These issues are raining down on schools which are being buffeted, by one or more of them, as the winds of change gather momentum and ferocity. It would be easy to get down or even depressed; some people will whilst others are voting with their feet and the situation will get worse. It was within this context we met and were challenged to do our best work.
Dancing in the Rain
It can be difficult to dance in the rain unless you are confident that the downpour will subside and a rainbow will appear. It is this sense of hope the HeadsRoundtable needs to bring the journey ahead. Seeing beyond the storm, grasping the opportunities that are inevitably created in a crisis and being clear about what the system should look like, our preferred future, will be a critical part of our on-going dialogue. Fundamental to coming through the next few difficult years will be a seismic shift towards greater teacher and school agency.
Here’s out plan for the coming months:
Liam has risen to the challenge of producing a HTRT paper opposing the implementation of the EBacc on students and schools. The HTRT submission will be in by the 29th January 2016 deadline and I’d urge you to also make your opposition known. The National Baccalaureate, led by Tom S and involving a number of partner organisations, remains at the forefront of our thinking. The HTRT response is on the website and my own thoughts with a downloadable version of a response is here.
Dave and Jarlath are going to lead on a new HTRT paper – not totally sure what we will call it but something like “The Missing, Hidden and Forgotten Children” is a working title – to link in with the Department for Education consultation on Identifying Children who are Missing Education. The closing date for responses is the 7th March 2016. We are going to use this opportunity to talk more widely about the pressures within the system, inappropriate behaviour of a small minority of schools who remove too many children from their rolls and the cost of educating children in independent special schools.
Ros, Duncan and myself are going to look at the issue of a coherent and proportionate Accountability System for schools and have a number of ideas for updating the Manifesto paper produced for the last election. Watch this space as things are moving fast in the area of accountability. Will we see a move from universal to targeted inspection in the near future? How will the different accountability systems being run by the Department for Education, Ofsted and Regional Schools Commissioners form a coherent whole?
We are looking to develop a new paper around Recruitment and Retention by gathering live data from Head teachers in the Summer Term (Chris is working on how we will do this). We are all acutely aware how difficult it is for a school to say “we haven’t got enough teachers” or “our teachers don’t have the skills and knowledge required to deliver the curriculum” hence the anonymous gathering of data. Funding and Fairer Funding won’t escape our scrutiny; no doubt we will be writing on this theme as well.
A call for the Education System to be a greater force Social Justice, with practical suggestions, will be a thread that will run through our work and any papers produced.
Seeing Through the Storm
Getting our shared message out is always a challenge but we’re in discussions with the BBC about providing comment on various stories from a Head teachers’ perspective; will be tweeting out via @HeadsRoundtable (thanks in advance Ros, Jon & Dave) as well as looking to provide stories for friends and supporters in the education media World. If you want a date for your diary, please keep free the 1st July 2016 as we will be running an Open Event for Heads and Senior Leaders to share information and get feedback on some of the key issues affecting schools.
We’re going to try to contact the members of the Education Select Committee (can anyone help us with this?), meet school commissioners, possibly Ofsted and anyone else’s door we can batter down or who would welcome speaking to us.
Completing the job we started last summer, we’ve brought some new voices into the core group replacing some of the powerful female voices that left for pastures new in the summer. So welcome to Keziah Featherstone, Parveen Earl, Binks Neate Evans, Ani Lawrence and Dr Rona MacKenzie. Following contact with #WomenEd we hope to add a couple more people to the core group in the near future.
I love working with great people; HeadsRoundtable are one such group … now where are my wellies; I’m off to find a puddle or two.