“Building bridges across the chaos… because we are standing on the edge”
We feel closer to the edge than ever before; there are bright spots in the education system but overall it feels stressed, appears fractured and lacks a cohesive national narrative. Insufficient funding is affecting provision for pupils and limiting teachers’ salaries; excessive invalid accountability is creating perverse incentives and fear leading to poor short term decision-making plus there is a woeful lack of retention and recruitment. Dr. Mary Bousted wrote a brilliant article for SecEd that you can read here.
It’s time to start thinking the unthinkable before the undesirable becomes our reality. More than anything I worry about a lack of teachers. A well-qualified, highly capable and professional teacher in front of every child is a reasonable expectation; it’s increasingly unlikely to be met in schools in the years ahead. Other school leaders may put funding top of their agenda; with insufficient teachers to employ it may not be the lack of money that tips the system over the edge.
Must Do 1: Teachers’ Pay in the Early Years Must be Competitive
The call for a 5% increase for all teachers from many unions is a great rallying cry but our approach may need a bit more nuance. For people on the Leadership Scale and Teachers Upper Pay Spine the additional salary may be very welcome but is unlikely to influence whether we stay in the profession or affect the discretionary effort we put in. I’d settle for a percent or two; what about you?
For teachers on the main scale I’d go for a 5% or even 10% increase in salary. The loss of teachers in the early years and failure to recruit in the first place could be addressed, in part, by salary increases. The difference in workload and expectation between a teacher on M4 (£28,771) and the top of the Upper Pay Spine (£38,663) doesn’t justify the pay differential; in many schools workload and expectation would be very similar. We need to be able to comete with graduate salaries in other professions and jobs; the ability to make a real difference should be appropriately rewarded. The change would also help career changers who often give up well paid careers, incur debt during their training, in search of greater purpose.
Funding must be provided through increased school budgets for any pay increase awarded. Reducing government’s pet projects would provide some of this. Cancelling any further funding via the Strategic School Improvement Fund, Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund and MAT Growth Fund until the necessary objective evaluation of these programmes’ first round of awards has been completed will provide a chunk of this funding, in the interim. My guess is that any evaluation will question whether these programmes provide and impact or value for money; at a time core school budgets are under pressure that can’t be right.
Must Do 2: More Teachers Will Only Be Achieved Through Less External Accountability
Like Dr Mary Bousted suggested, Ofsted in its current incarnation has to go. I don’t think the organisation understands the depth of problems it is creating; some are direct whilst others indirect. For too many schools it is not a school improvement process but a workload enhancement driver. The change needed won’t come from within Ofsted; the Department for Education will need to wake up and take the lead on this. Ofsted should only be involved in working with schools below the floor standard: visiting regularly to offer analysis and advice; monitoring the strength of the improvement processes and be equally held to account for improvements in outcomes, alongside the school’s leaders. There is no need for any inspection grades at all. It will be a useful exercise in empathy for Ofsted who will suddenly realise the scale of the challenges facing some schools.
In time school performance tables need to be rethought so the metrics really do measure a school’s effectiveness in the wider sense and address unacceptable behaviours like off-rolling. Equally important is to ensure that Regional School Commissioners and local authorities don’t become Ofsted by proxy. The accountability system is excessively over bloated and confusingly overlapping.
Must Do 3: Stop School Leaders Doing Daft Things
Finally one I don’t like but needs to be done. Mandatory training for all headteachers to expose the stupidity of some on the things we are collectively doing. The “Why the Hell Are You Doing These” slide could cover: graded lesson observations; excessive book scrutinies, learning walks and data drops; triple marking (possibly marking per se); off-rolling and annual performance pay. You may have other ideas which could be added to this slide.
The “Things to Really Focus On” slide must have fewer things, your staff and all your pupils as number 1, 2 and 3, though not necessarily in that order. As school leaders we need to get better at thinking and building processes for getting better; our current approach of silver bullets, multiple initiatives and teacher time wasters is killing the profession.
A far more systematic and effective professional development programme is needed in many schools; this is not easy but it is crucial. High quality CPD has to be sponsored and supported from the top of the school’s hierarchy. It would be great to get governors/directors involved but given all they currently do pro bono it seems inappropriate to mandate more from them.
If you enjoy thinking at a policy level you’d be welcome to join us at the Headteachers’ Roundtable Summit. The early bird discount is available until the 31st January 2018; you can book here.