Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

DfES question time

Less than three months into his new role as director general of schools at the DfES, Ralph Tabberer in June paid a visit to ASCL Council. He spoke about his priorities for the department and heard members' views.

He first acknowledged that schools and colleges have suffered in recent years from the manner of implementation of many policies - this is a priority area for improvement. The DfES will shortly be undergoing a 'capability review' - an "Ofsted inspection for the public services" - which will also help to identify areas to work on.

He said that evidence shows that leadership skills and the quality of teaching and learning have continuously improved and are better now than ever before, so drastic policy development is not necessary.

However, he said, there is a compelling case for continued reform in four areas:

  • Every Child Matters agenda. Much work needs to be done to integrate education with the wider children's services.

  • Personalisation. The good practice happening in individual establishments should be captured and shared quickly.

  • Workforce reform. The next step is to look at professional development and training for all staff. This is needed in order to achieve the two points above.

  • Collaboration. More needs to be done to make partnerships sustainable and to incorporate links with businesses and universities. Trusts will offer more options.

ASCL Past President Tim Andrew responded by saying that most of the policies of the last few years ASCL can support and in principle has agreed with. However, the implementation has been "a nightmare" for members. The problem seems to lie at the middle management level within the department, where policy is turned into practice and where needless accounting measures, targets and bureaucracy are slipped in. As Tim said, "They can't help themselves."

Chris Nicholls noted that another point at which initiatives go astray is in the hands of intermediaries such as local authorities and organisations such as the QCA, Ofsted and Capita. What starts out as guidance or recommended practice from the DfES has turned into a bureaucratic requirement by the time it reaches schools and colleges. He asked what the DfES would do to rein in these agencies and local authorities.

Referring to the lack of trust between agencies like the DfES and Ofsted and schools and colleges, Russ Barr stressed that a major contributor is unnecessary auditing and monitoring which takes time away from the core tasks of teaching and learning. To remedy this, there needs to be a proper, intelligent accountability regime.

Ralph Tabberer responded to these points in a way that suggests that he understands our concerns. He certainly took away a clear message from Council that the government needs to work much harder to ensure that the implementation of policies is made more sensible for our members.

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