Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Recharge and focus on the coming year

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As the summer term ends, thoughts turn to Greek beaches, Swiss mountains and other faraway places...and plans for next term. There is plenty to think about.

In the preface to his recent book Leadership and Sustainability (2005), Michael Fullan expresses his "special appreciation to David Miliband, David Hopkins and the scores of educators in England at all levels who are providing us with a living laboratory of educational reform on a grand scale".

Both David Miliband and David Hopkins have moved on, but the rest of us remain in the education laboratory, still working with the bunsen burners on full. Sometimes we feel that we are part of an exciting experiment in reform, sometimes we feel that we are the ones being experimented on.

Our concern is less about the theoretical basis of the policies (although there are questions here too) and more about the sheer number of major changes occurring in the coming year.

I have drawn the attention of ministers and senior DfES officials to the need to allow school leaders to implement these policies before any more initiatives are started.

The challenge for SHA members this autumn is, first, to make sense of the agenda; second, to chart a way through it; and third, to maintain the priorities of one's own institution.

The urgent has to be dealt with but, in one's own school or college, there will be other important priorities too. Over the next year, and especially the autumn term, it will be all too easy to let the urgent take precedence over the important.

In his book, Michael Fullan cites intelligent accountability as one of the main pillars of sustainability in school improvement (although he fails to mention the part played by SHA in its genesis).

No recipe for the SEF

From the notion of intelligent accountability has grown the new relationship with schools and an increasing emphasis on school self-evaluation.

Some schools have already been told that they may receive a visit from Ofsted during 2004-05. All schools last inspected three or more years ago would be wise to complete the self-evaluation form (SEF) as soon as possible.

However, self-evaluation is not merely completing a SEF; the SEF should be a summary of the school's process. There is (thankfully) no single recipe for self-evaluation.

Some of the first completed SEFs have been far too long - 97 pages in the case of one school. Self-evaluation should not be a bureaucratic process, nor should schools try to evaluate everything each year. A three-year cycle is recommended.

More important than the product is the effect it has on improvement. The most successful models create a strong evaluative climate among all staff.

SHA members should ensure the self-evaluation process is integrated into existing performance management arrangements, thus streamlining procedures and reducing bureaucracy.

The 'single conversation', conducted with the head and senior staff by a school improvement partner will begin in around 20 per cent of secondary schools in the autumn term.

SHA members in the pilot LEAs in 2004-05 report that the process has been robust and non-bureaucratic. The independent National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) will shortly publish a favourable report on the single conversation pilot.

These policies are being developed by a DfES consultative group that includes practitioners and on which SHA is amply represented. Would that this was the case with all DfES policies!

With the annual meeting for parents and the governors' annual report abolished by the 2005 Education Act, the school profile will appear for the first time in 2005-06, but its final format is still under consideration.

The guidance on teaching and learning responsibility payments (TLRs) having appeared at the end of May, the process of planning and consultation should be well under way already.

This represents a huge challenge for school leaders, but is a logical development from the workforce reforms and the need to focus on teaching and learning.

Owning workforce reform

Workforce reform is now firmly established in the secondary sector, but where will this programme head next?

Certainly there will be continuing pressure to reduce the average working week and to improve work-life balance, but the feel-good factor in workload could well arise in future more from working smarter than working less.

It could also occur because teachers feel greater ownership of their work and less direction from central government. It remains to be seen whether - and how - this promised increase in flexibility will occur, but the direction of workforce reform is certainly something that can be considered by individual institutions.

Curriculum development is, as always, on the agenda, with enterprise education and the 14-19 reforms.

The new regulation about enterprise education, which has crept in through the back door of Sanctuary Buildings from the Treasury, is just the sort of central direction that we can do without.

The 14-19 white paper, albeit disappointing from the SHA viewpoint, is nevertheless a strong stimulus to collaboration between schools, and between schools and colleges, if we are to increase the range, and improve the quality, of vocational courses.

SHA members will also be mindful of the white paper's emphasis on mathematics and English. Ensuring that these two departments are delivering good results will be a major curriculum priority over the next two years.

QCA is commencing a review of Key Stage 3, which is likely to result in a welcome slimming of the curriculum. SHA members should watch out for the results of this review before carrying out their own KS3 reviews.

Most secondary schools and colleges are already active in networks or collaboratives. The government's prospectus on Education Improvement Partnerships (EIPs) provides a unifying framework for this cooperation and the years 2005-07 will see an increase in working together, not least because of the imperative of forming partnerships to deal with hard-to-teach and excluded pupils by September 2007.

Steer on behaviour

Dealing with the most challenging students is near the top of any school's agenda and the two groups on behaviour established by Ruth Kelly in May could well raise expectations.

SHA continues to point out how much better behaviour is in schools than in many other parts of society, but it will be the job of Alan Steer and his expert group to produce down-to-earth, workable recommendations based on the immense amount of good practice already in existence.

As well as behaviour, the secretary of state has spoken often about school meals. Better diet could do much for school improvement, but young people eat at most 190 meals at school out of an annual total of 1,100 (although we cannot assume that they eat three meals a day).

SHA has pointed out strongly, however, that the quality of school meals should not form part of an Ofsted inspection, especially under the new framework.

Student voice has been one of the most exciting aspects of the SHA/Specialist Schools Trust conferences on personalising learning and, together with assessment for learning and the other gateways, has had a strong impact on teaching and learning in those schools and colleges that have found effective ways of listening to young people.

Building Schools for the Future will bring new benefits - and lots of hard work - for some school leaders this year and many local authorities will want to make progress towards the aims of the Children Act, with more joined-up local services and extended schools provision.

With so much on the agenda, it will be particularly important for SHA members to identify priorities at the start of the new academic year. Although all schools will be addressing TLRs over the next six months, it remains vitally important to keep the main priorities on teaching and learning.

As a way of keeping the agenda in focus, workforce reform, self-evaluation, behaviour, curriculum reform, collaborative work and personalising learning can all be viewed through the teaching and learning lens.

Working with other school leaders as part of a SHA network, or one of the many other networks formed in recent years, can provide mutual support and confidence in dealing with the agenda.

All these things can be considered from the perspective of the summer holiday, but the top priority for all members should be to have a good break. Ensure that you are all refreshed for the many challenges ahead in the coming year.

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