Catalyst for change
With a general election on the horizon, an ASCL election manifesto was the main topic of discussion at the Council meeting on 4-5 June in Sheffield. Streamline and simplify was the key message for the next government.
With a general election in the next 12 months, ASCL is compiling an election manifesto, for publication in the autumn, setting out the association's priorities. This council debate started to shape the content of the manifesto.
All committees discussed priorities for the manifesto in their meetings the previous day, so the debate started with contributions from committee chairs. There was a good deal of overlap with the main points as follows:
Legislate less and give greater freedom to schools and colleges. Governments must trust and respect educators and listen to them more.
With tighter funding, resist cutting frontline services in education. Make cuts in central government and non-departmental public bodies instead.
Move to transparent, activity-led funding.
Reduce prescription in the curriculum and put greater emphasis on creativity.
Address issues with vocational education - diplomas have not done this so far. Continue to push the ASCL general diploma.
Create a common pay spine for all employees. Institute greater rewards and reduce workload for senior leaders.
Remove perverse incentives that discourage collaboration.
Reduce preoccupation with structures. ASCL should support diversity as long as it does not contradict our other aims.
In the debate, Council representatives stated that ASCL is a broad church and the manifesto should reflect that. However, there was a worry that the key principles of comprehensive education are being challenged. ASCL should continue to stress the need for fair admissions and funding.
The creeping tendency towards centralisation was a concern. ASCL needs to clearly state what is the business of central government and what is the responsibility of the local area. School and college leaders also have a part to play in the democratic process.
The point was made that the public doesn't realise that schools in different parts of the country get different levels of funding to do the same job. This needs to be made clear.
Regarding curriculum, a broad statement is needed of what members want for 14-19 qualifications and supporting material. The diploma is an example of where an initiative could work if the government stops being overly prescriptive and changing the direction of travel. It needs clarity and rationalisation.
It is important to get the message across that ASCL members believe in high education standards as much as ministers do. The government should set national standards but give flexibility to schools and colleges.
Most of the points in the debate could be summed up under the theme of streamlining and simplifying the system. It was agreed that the manifesto should be short and sharp - one key document, with supporting material, that clearly states what ASCL members stand for in education.
Policy Director Malcolm Trobe will pull together the first draft of the manifesto, which will come back to the September Council for discussion.
Role of local authorities
The second debate was on the role of the local authority (LA) and how Council representatives would like to see it evolve following the general election.
It was noted initially that a different service is needed from local authorities for sixth form colleges, secondary and primary schools, or for large and small schools. However the point was made secondary schools in some areas provide administrative support for primary schools. The need for local authorities to do this shouldn't be taken as read.
There was a strong feeling that local authorities are not doing a good enough job at managing school improvement partners (SIPs). If SIPs' role is going to be more important, there must be better training, support and management of the process. Some local authorities do not have the capability to do this.
Regarding Children's Trusts and the children's agenda, there was some discussion on how great a role educators should have. It was felt that some local authorities do not fully recognise that educators have an important part to play in wider strategic partnerships.
In addition, partnerships may stretch across LA boundaries so the range of partnerships must be taken into consideration.
There was concern about the ability of small unitary authorities to deliver, especially on the children's agenda. One person commented that the level of interference of elected council members had a significant impact on the LA's effectiveness.
It was strongly felt that funding should go directly to schools and sixth form colleges. Some local authorities more than others want to hold on to funding.
Generally it was agreed that it makes sense for LAs to oversee some areas, such as admissions and travel arrangements, but others areas, such as improving teaching, should be left to educators. There was particular anxiety over LAs' role in 'supporting' schools causing concern.
The overall theme of the discussion was less direct control by local authorities over schools and colleges but greater partnership and equality relating to the children's agenda.
The committee reviewed its draft policy paper on Key Stage 3 assessment to take account of the review of the DCSF expert group on assessment published in May. Many of the group's recommendations are in line with ASCL policy, including keeping Key Stage 2 tests in English and maths in the short-term while investing further in developing teacher assessment. ASCL also welcomed the proposal for national sampling.
Controlled assessment is a concern as it appears many members are not fully aware of the implications and have not thought through how they will manage the new GCSE requirements for increased modularisation and controlled assessment. There will be implications for timetabling and staff training on the new regulations. In addition teachers will no longer be allowed to help with the drafting stage, which could affect results. The initial reaction from heads of department seems to be positive but this is based on a very small sample. The committee agreed to seek feedback and have a more in depth discussion of ASCL's position in September.
Allegations of abuse
The committee considered the draft ASCL response to the Parliamentary Children Schools and Families Select Committee inquiry into allegations against school staff. Fiona Hammans is giving evidence to the committee on behalf of ASCL.
A number of members recounted incidents when allegations had been made and the very serious potential consequences for staff. Adults' human rights need to be considered in addition to safeguarding children. There is concern about an increasing trend of malicious allegations fuelled by a compensation culture. The powers of school staff to discipline students are not always known or understood by police officers and social workers.
The very serious consequences of suspension were highlighted. It was noted that staff are very rarely able to return to work after a suspension even when the allegations have been groundless. The committee recommended that aspects of ASCL's response be strengthened to reflect the spirit of our discussion.
Pay and Conditions Committee
The committee commended Steve Szemerenyi on the work he has done to reach agreement with the other unions in the social partnership over the definition of 'rarely cover'.
It was felt that, as the move to rarely cover was part of the workforce agreement, Steve did an excellent job on getting to a position that gives the greatest degree of flexibility to schools. Council members were reminded that planning well in advance is key to managing rarely cover. Not every week in the timetable needs to be the same.
Policy Director Malcolm Trobe reported on a meeting he attended with the DCSF at which they discussed likely efficiency savings and tighter funding across the education sector. Schools will be protected next year but from 2011, budgets could get much tighter. The committee discussed how to support members, especially those who have only ever worked with increasing budgets, manage with tighter funding. The committee proposed that MAPS assemble a team of consultants to support schools with strategic financial management and develop a course for next year. Sam Ellis is working on a spreadsheet for schools which will be available in the autumn and one of the autumn Leader magazines will focus on financial management.
The next Council meeting will be 17-18 September.
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