Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Controlling the game

Rather than trying to beat the government at its own game, schools and colleges should take control of the agenda.

Tesco is a business, a very successful business. It plays the game and makes a profit. It appears to be particularly good at noticing when the game is about to change.

When the game was fast food it gave us ready-processed meals, when the game became healthy food for children it was ready. Now that the game is "support your local shop," it's undercutting them.

We all know that there is an education game. We recognise the changes (although perhaps not quite as speedily as Tesco). When the game was focused on 5 A*-C (with annual improvement) the strategy was GNVQs and restricting admissions.

Now that the game is contextualised value-added, we need to change our strategies and Ofsted inspectors themselves are offering some helpful tips.

All of the following pieces of advice have come from the mouths of inspectors in the last few months: to a 5-11 primary school that they should beware of setting their key stage 1 teacher assessments too high if they were to have any chance of showing value added at KS2; to a secondary school that they were not helping themselves to show value added at KS3 by sending their maths and science advanced skills teachers into feeder primaries to assist in raising attainment at KS2.

Numerous high achieving secondary schools have been told that the way to show value-added from KS3 to KS4 is by entering year 11 students for more qualifications, for example AS levels.

They haven't yet suggested that schools should actively recruit certain ethnic groups and discourage others, but perhaps that's just a matter of time.

At ASCL, we applauded the introduction of contextualised value-added but we saw it being used as one of many indicators which would help schools and colleges to analyse their own strengths and weaknesses and take appropriate action, not as a new target.

We could all play the game and some will, but we are not Tesco or any other business. Tesco's main aim is to make a profit. Ours should be to improve the education of all young people.

Young people are not commodities and if we really want to sustain leadership, the sort of leadership of which we can be proud, we must take back control of the agenda instead of playing the game.

As a member of QCA Board, I have recently been involved in work on regulations and standards and have been looking at examples from other areas. What follows is a true story.

A hospital was castigated for not meeting its waiting time targets in accident and emergency. Management investigated and found that it was impossible for staff to get a consistent through-flow of patients because the bus stop was right outside the hospital and every half hour a bus arrived, along with a group of patients.

Claiming that the bus stop was causing traffic congestion, the hospital convinced the highways department that the bus stop should be moved, not too far but just down the road.

With some elderly patients walking slowly, others limping, the patients arriving by bus became a gradual influx and they were all registered in the requisite time.

The hospital met its targets, was congratulated and no doubt received an accolade for its outstanding management.

Do we believe that leadership is about moving bus stops or bringing about real change?

Sustaining leadership is about attracting young colleagues into a role which is challenging but manageable, enjoyable and rewarding.

It should be about working together to ensure that all young people have the same opportunities and are encouraged to succeed, not just those in our own institution, not just those in our area, not even just those living in our country.

Throughout this year I have been campaigning on the seven issues which I believe would help us to reverse the current problems in recruiting and retaining leaders.

  • Coherent, planned and resourced education policies, leading to genuine system-wide improvement

  • A curriculum and qualifications framework, guaranteeing a basic entitlement with maximum flexibility

  • A respect agenda, supported and modelled by all adults

  • Appropriate training and development for future leaders, accessible to all

  • Pay and conditions for leaders which recognise the pressures and responsibilities of the role

  • Further development of ASCL so that it can continue to support its growing membership and work in partnership with others

  • Wider acceptance of the need for all leaders to work in partnerships which lead to long-term, sustainable improvement for all young people, both here and abroad

I hope that in ten years' time the president of ASCL will not need to consider sustaining leadership as a theme; that our schools and colleges will continue to be vibrant places which develop a love of learning in young people and that many more colleagues will again regard leadership as a role to aspire to.

By Sue Kirkham, ASCL President

© 2017 Association of School and College Leaders