When the leaders change everything changes; whilst this might not be totally true, leaders shouldn’t underestimate their impact. Impacting on everything is a tall order but we can impact on some things and as such are not helpless.
With apologies to Paul Dix (@pivotalpaul) for the misappropriation of his latest book title; most people’s hoped for 2018 require leaders to change their behaviour, at a school, system and national level. This simple tweet got the ball rolling.
Click on the tweet above if you’d like to read the full thread of responses; fascinating and diverse in equal measure. Thanks to everyone who contributed and sorry if I missed yours out.
There were a substantial number of responses; rather than trying to include them all I’ve attempted to identify the main strands. It wasn’t easy as the responses were wide and varied; my analysis below will almost certainly be incomplete, may have missed some important elements and be filtered through my own biases.
One of the main messages was that responders were tired of what they see as political interference; taking education “out of the hands” of politicians was a consistent theme. Interestingly in the follow up poll (see below) seeking to identify the biggest issue for schools/education in 2018 only 10% of respondents identified political interference. Maybe the Secretary of State, Justine Greening MP, is striking the right balance between necessary changes and stability; working at a national policy level. Allied to this was a call for greater teacher autonomy/agency in the classroom; simply being allowed to get on with the job. This could equally refer to school leaders as it could to our political masters.
Funding; this had to be an issue, many of us could have predicted it. The call to “give children what is right not what is left” epitomised a number of tweets around the need for more or realistic school funding. As the new national funding formula kicks in next year; let’s remember that amongst the winners and losers in formula terms we’re all likely to see lower levels of funding per pupil in real terms than a decade ago. Sufficient funding is the real issue and the greatest concern for over half the people who responded to the poll; spending the money wisely goes without saying but also needs to be said.
Schools in London will see some of the largest real term falls over time. Whilst it might be right and proper that the historically high levels of funding in London are more equitably distributed; it’s also worth remembering that this funding may be one factor that has contributed to the substantial gains pupils attending London schools have attained, both nationally and internationally. Within the funding strand there were a number of people making particular reference to funding for greater mental health provision in schools or Special Educational Needs.
The third main narrative that developed in the tweets was accountability: changes to accountability measures so they reflected a more holistic view of education; moving beyond our fixation with data; less top down accountability and the need to scrap Ofsted. Some possibly pointed comments about starting schooling at seven may have been triggered by Ofsted’s recent Bold Beginnings publication.
The perverse impact of the accountability system on schools in more challenging circumstances and some school leaders’ decisions within it, with respect to SEND pupils, was mentioned on a number of occasions. Some responders considered the need to put more emphasis of character development, well-being of students and mental health – whether this was a teacher’s role or not was a moot point.
Interestingly teacher workload and well-being (including flexible working arrangements) didn’t appear as often. I find this counter-intuitive. The challenges of LGBT teachers was mentioned by a few and linked in. Not much is going to shift the current national establishment from some of its more unnecessary practices and directives quite like a lack of school teachers. This may just cause panic when politicians can no longer claim there isn’t a “crisis”. The increasing number of pupils who are of school age, poor retention of teachers and woeful recruitment to teacher training, so far this year, are likely to create the lever for other much needed changes in the system. It’s my best bet anyway.
Taking the main strands of the responses, here’s a short list of New Year thoughts for school leaders (note to self as well as others):
Work from a principle of subsidiarity; let the decision be made at the closest competent point to where it is delivered. For most of what goes on in schools that will be the subject or departmental team not the senior leadership team. Where a whole school approach is required engage as many staff as possible in the decision or at least the journey to it.
Funding will continue to be tight; whilst not a palatable view, the current international evidence doesn’t produce a particularly high correlation between pupil outcomes (measured narrowly; mainly around literacy, numeracy & science) and per pupil funding. This may mean that our funding will allow us to deliver academic outcomes but little else for a number of years.
Annual performance related pay was a stupid idea to begin with. Use this year to dismantle the pernicious accountability machinery that feeds it, inside schools; lesson grading, the requirement for half termly/termly predicted grades. Focus instead on small grain low stakes assessments, data left in the hands of teachers, which will allow them to identify things that pupils don’t know but should and things they need to find a way to teach better. Connect teachers together more; build powerful CPD opportunities.
Ask teachers, “What are you spending a lot of time on that is having limited, little or no impact on pupils?” Reflect on what they collectively say and systematically remove teacher time wasters.
Twitter isn’t really the place for systematic policy development; blogs tend to be largely one way, however, if you fancy a day discussing policy then join us at The Heateachers’ Rountable Summit 2018 on the 23rd February 2018. Click the image above to find out more.
Happy New Year to one and all; hope 2018 is kind to you and your loved ones.