Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Setting a spark for five year strategy

Fire and sparks

Ruth Kelly talks to school leaders about the new relationship with schools and workforce reform in the context of Labour's five-year strategy for education.

As school leaders, you know the decisions young people make between the ages of 11 and 19 affect their whole lives.

That is why our priority for the next five years is shaping the education system round the needs of the individual pupil rather than around institutions. This will enable children and young people, in fact all learners, to choose the best path of learning to suit them.

I believe listening to those who know - teachers, children's services, parents and learners - is the best way to shape a quality educational experience. That means not just imposing policies which we believe will make the system better, but understanding how those policies impact upon teachers and students.

This is the spirit of true collaboration - working together to make things better, with teachers, parents and students involved in the decision-making process.

We are at a crucial and exciting point for education and skills in this country. We can give every child - not just a select few - a world class education which will equip them for a prosperous future.

While it is a cause for celebration, we know we're not there yet. There still remains too strong a link between social background and educational performance. We want more of our young people to leave formal education with the skills employers recognise as valuable.

Now is a time to be ambitious. We know how far we've come and how far we can go. Our children and young people deserve nothing less.

Five-year strategy

Our five year strategy, which we published last year, provides a blueprint for an education system which is continually self-improving. It's more than simply consolidating our results: more good schools, new areas of study, and an invigorated teaching workforce which is better rewarded. It is about building on those results.

It's a plan for even more investment, more potent change, striving for more ambitious standards and most importantly, doing it together. Central to this is the new relationship with schools, which SHA is helping to forge.

Our strategy for the next five years, to build upon our success, is about setting a spark to free thinking about different, better ways of learning. That means looking for innovation, and focusing squarely on learners and new and different ways of providing high-quality education.

Of course, that will mean challenges for all of us. But things won't change unless we challenge ourselves in other ways on issues such as extended schools and curriculum delivery.

I want a system in which schools enjoy greater freedom to deliver education in ways most likely to raise pupil achievement in their communities - teaching in ways which they know work best for them.

This is about trust, but it is also common sense. Each young person is different, so we can't think a one-size-fits-all system will work for everyone. Responding to the needs of your learners, parents and teachers means a more personal education system which gives people choice and makes the most of the opportunity to learn.

I have already heard many examples of school leaders looking afresh at what their students are offered, finding ways to create more time in the classroom and less time moving around a large campus, sharing resources and expertise with other schools and institutions.

These are your decisions to make and we want to support an environment where every teacher is a leader and feels able to make their school better.

Smarter workforce

At the forefront of this change is a stronger, smarter workforce with continued commitment to staff development. This in turn is attracting new recruits.

Almost a third of new secondary school teachers who changed their career, held a management or senior position in their previous job. A further 22 per cent held a middle ranking professional role.

Ofsted tells us that last year we had the best generation of trainee teachers ever. They join an experienced workforce which is gearing itself up to deliver a rich and rewarding learning experience - through a greater emphasis on continual improvement. Hard work? Yes. Rewarding? Absolutely.

What this amounts to is a steady and sustainable improvement in standards over time. We know we are getting there. The drop in the number of secondary schools below floor targets clearly shows that our investment and a commitment from schools can work.

By introducing new, streamlined ways of working together - DfES, local authorities, Ofsted, the LSC - and greatly simplified accountability arrangements through the school improvement partners, we will see more autonomy for secondary school leaders.

The new relationship will remove unnecessary burdens and bureaucracy on school leaders so you can focus more time and energy on raising standards. We believe this is an invaluable change and are excited about just how much can be achieved under this new structure.

We are right beside you on this quest to raise standards. We are committed to tackling serious bad behaviour in schools and low-level disruption which stops children learning and grinds down teachers.

This is just one example of our determination to help you make more classrooms across the country revitalised places of learning.

Finally, what has struck me most about the education portfolio has been the pervasive sense of cooperation throughout the education system.

I have been encouraged by the level of cooperation in the classroom, teachers, parents and students working together within schools, and relationships between schools.

This is the true spirit of excellence, pushing each other on to scale new heights on a daily basis. It gives me great optimism for the future.

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