Professor Tim Oates described the English Education System as “Good but stuck”, I’d now suggest it is “Good but stuck and increasingly fragile.” Reacting to a pretty full White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere (who could possibly disagree), on day one has certain down sides; on reflection some ideas which appear rather poor improve with age and vice versa.
Random sentence: Please get the 1st July 2016 date in your diary for the HeadsRoundtable Think Tank Conference at the Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University (right by Sheffield train station). We don’t yet have a title for the conference but wondering about “The Profession’s Alternative White Paper”
The “early intelligence” within any system, made up of the mutterings and concerns of people as they chat together, is always useful to a leader even when they are not substantiated by other data. Data often has a time lag within it; describing what was rather than what is. There are too many teachers and school leaders muttering about the problems of recruitment, retention, redundancy and budgets for there not to be some significant problems being experienced already and certainly in the years ahead. It suits government not to listen too much. The narrative doesn’t fit with six years of being in power; six months and you can blame a previous administration but that isn’t an option any more.
The White Paper after giving a rosy view of recruitment and retention hints at the problems ahead. There is no reason why recruitment should become “more difficult as the economy grows stronger”. Without sufficient high quality teachers and leaders any education system will be built on sand and that is one possible scenario in the next few years. My tipping point guess is 2018/19; by then I fear we will be in a crisis not seen in decades without, and maybe even with, a radically different approach to respecting and trust teachers’ professionalism.
My one absolute wind up, in the White Paper, is the Department for Education ever talking about workload. It’s too late having supported the development of an accountability system which is driving increases in workload and good people (we can ill afford to lose) out of the profession. Add to that concurrent curriculum changes across all key stages and the introduction of idiosyncratic or unnecessary performance indicators; they just don’t seem to understand how much they are at the core of the problem. As you can probably tell this section grated. It’s too little, too late to promise stability now, we won’t see it for years and years due to changes already in the pipeline.
The paper is actually full of many good ideas; therein lies one of the problems. There may be too many good ideas for a system which seems to be increasingly fragile. This fragility is varied and variable across the country but I sense it is growing. This was the moment to remove current wrong drivers within the system and incentivise it at a grass roots level rather than the middle tier; if anyone at the Department is listening we need to secure more and retain more good teachers.
Looking again at the allocation of teacher training places at a regional level is sensible; more so if these regions were contiguous with reformed borders for an aligned Regional School Commissioners and Ofsted Service. There’s actually much to commend the ideas that subject & subject pedagogical expertise and behaviour management should be strengthened in Initial Teacher Training and in replacing Qualified Teacher Status with a more challenging accreditation that has class room practice and experience at its heart. A new national website, free for schools to use, on which vacancies can be advertised will be a welcome relief to schools’ budgets (though I understand some papers might not be exactly throwing a party this evening). Conversely the new National Teaching Service feels like a Troops to Teacher debacle unless you give it to an organisation like TeachFirst; why? TeachFirst have the potential to develop a through put into the Teaching Service from its TeachFirst recruits and I believe is also sensible and mature enough to realise it doesn’t have a monopoly on quality; it should recruit the best irrespective of their route into teaching. The problem I have with all the above ideas is they simply won’t attract more people into the profession. “Oh, I must go into teaching there’s now regional allocation of teacher training places” or “its much more difficult to be accredited as a qualified teacher; let’s join the profession.” How will this paper develop a greater sense of teacher agency?
This is essentially where the White paper is high on aspiration and rhetoric but rather lower on reality and practicality. Some great new processes and system but where are the people?
Nicking Ros McMullen’s idea, what about the White Paper suggesting teachers’ student tuition fees and grants be paid off at 10% per year whilst they are in full time teaching in state funded academies/schools? You commit to spending your twenties and possibly early thirties in teaching, have a fabulous time, make a great contribution to social justice and the future productivity of the country, and we’ll pay down your debts. Some of the money can be taken from the madness of bursaries paid to trainees, tax free, who have an outstandingly well paid training year some with no intention of ever teaching or leave it too soon after starting.
There would be no way I could let the White paper pass without having a look at accountability and Ofsted in particular. This is one of the huge levers that needs pulling if we are to turn the pending crisis around. With another 300 new teaching schools to be decided on data and not an Ofsted grade and inspection to “increasingly focus on underperformance” you wonder what the phrase “Inspection of schools graded good or outstanding will be proportionate to a transparent assessment of risk” might actually mean. An end to universal inspection? As a bit of a side swipe, I don’t need clarification “that the focus of inspection is on outcomes” as it always has been. Consultation on removing separate graded judgements on the quality of teaching, assessment and learning is a bit of window dressing. It may be well worth looking out for the detail of how schools are going to be made accountable for excluded pupils. We may well be approaching a time where schools who have manipulated their outcomes by excluding or getting rid of pupils are to be held bang to rights; not before time to.
Continuing professional development gets a big shout out with new Standards for Professional Development and new design voluntary Professional Qualifications for leaders but these aren’t exactly going to get teachers excited in staff rooms up and down the country tomorrow. As for me announcing in a briefing that teaching schools are to be incentivised to publish their research on an open source basis or that the College of Teaching peer reviewed journal is to be supported; I can see the eyes of staff glazing over as I type. The new Excellence in Leadership Fund for best multi-academy trusts sounds interesting. I hope a few of us (read BEBCMAT here) will be allowed to get access to this rather than the same old hogging all the new funding.
I’ve no chance of ever being appointed a Regional Schools Commissioner but I honestly wish you lot well. Their job description has just grown exponentially from the overwhelming to the impossible. From commissioning pupil premium reviews, receiving letters from parents asking can their school change their MAT, organising school improvement for academies that can’t do it themselves (surely this is a typo; academies can do everything) and then after coffee ensure everyone is an academy with the vast majority in MATs, though single academy trusts are not totally ruled out. Good luck.
And finally, oh the irony of some early statements; “outcomes matter more than methods” and “there is rarely one standardised solution” are classics. You have now either had an accident from laughing too much or just hit the screen in frustration. If only this were true. “So this government will rarely dictate” is my personal favourite.
Rhetoric rooted in reality is one of the tools of the trade for leaders. You have to create a connect for the people reading or listening from their daily lived experiences to a promised future. A better grip on reality is where the White Paper goes wrong; I accept reality will be perceived differently by people. It’s a matter of perspectives and opinions. It’s not that the paper is devoid of good ideas; some are to be commended but there are undoubtedly other better ones if the politicians would only listen to the profession.
Nick Gibb MP hosted a soiree this evening for select bloggers. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend mainly because I wasn’t invite (not that I’m bitter at all). Hopefully someone will actually get an unapologetic government to get real.
I’ve deliberately avoided some of the obvious announcements around an all academy system and money for 25% of secondary schools to extend the school day from 3:30 to 4:30 pm as they have and will be extensively covered elsewhere.
You can download a copy of the White Paper here.
The Educational Excellence Everywhere White Paper is 128 pages long so if you want a one page summary Schools Week have produced an excellent one that you can download here.
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