Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Missing the point...

Gains in key areas of ASCL's policy agenda have been overshadowed this month by the government's misguided assault on schools below the 30 per cent GCSEs target, writes Brian Lightman.

It seems a very long time since ASCL Executive chose this year's public policy agenda priorities which have been the focus of much lobbying and debate. We have taken advantage of every opportunity to proactively influence and shape policies.

For example in recent months we:

  • campaigned for changes to inspection through our detailed policy paper

  • gave evidence to the Parliamentary select committee about assessment and continued to campaign for reducing the burden of an overinflated examinations system

  • promoted the findings of our major project, written by Robert Hill, on partnership and collaboration

  • played a highly proactive role in 14-19 developments, promoting ASCL's position paper and organising with AoC and DCSF a series of information and consultation conferences providing direct feedback to DCSF ministers and officials.

However, since September 2007 the landscape has changed almost beyond recognition. The reconfiguration of the DfES has led to a profound change of emphasis on the wider children's agenda. Increasingly energies are being focused on issues related to the well-being of children and support for the most vulnerable.

This new balance accords closely with the way we view our roles, provided that we are not held accountable for matters outside our control. School and college leaders have always felt the moral imperative to play a part in improving the life chances of young people but we cannot do this single handed.

When the Children's Plan was published, ASCL saw much to support but warned strongly about the need for an implementation plan to prevent the 169 pages of policy statements from becoming the proverbial last straw for our members.

As the year comes to an end I remain very concerned at the pace with which the plan is being implemented. It seems as if it is a one- or two-year plan rather than a ten-year plan. At the same time we are contending with the proposed planning and funding changes at 16-18 which sadly focus once again on structures and have the potential to add to rather than reduce the bureaucratic burden.

The agendas for committees at ASCL Council in June were bursting with pressing items driven by this change to such an extent that it was hard to do them justice in the time available.

My greatest concern relates to the matter I highlighted in my annual conference speech. In spite of the huge efforts ASCL members continue to make to improve our education service, schools remain at the receiving end of a never-ending tirade of denigration.

Our colleagues in National Challenge schools feel deeply demoralised at having been branded with failure. It is madness that many successful schools have had to face the insult of being listed as one of the 638 National Challenge schools.

Towers School in Kent, like many others on the list, just weeks ago received two plaques from the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust . the first congratulating it on being one of 518 schools nationally to have achieved more than 10 per cent improvement in five-plus A*-C GCSE results since 2004 and the second awarded at BAFTA for being one of 518 schools nationally recognised for achieving ten points-plus Jesson value-added score.

Claiming that only externally imposed challenge will motivate exceptionally hard working professionals is not the way to support leaders of the most challenging schools in the country and attract people of the highest calibre to work in these schools.

During the last year it has been an enormous privilege to meet ASCL members around the country, witness the huge commitment to young people and see so much excellent practice. I wish you all a restful and well deserved summer break.

Brian Lightman

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