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Latest council concerns

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The latest Council meeting on 8-9 June in Cheltenham highlighted ASCL's growing concerns with a number of government initiatives including extended schools, healthier meals and 2005-06 budgets.

Leadership review

The first of two main Council debates centred on ASCL's recommendations to the panel conducting the school leadership review. Representatives responded to points raised by Stephen Szemerenyi that will help clarify ASCL's evidence.

Council first discussed the option of fixed term contracts for heads, with higher salaries and compensation for job loss, but concluded that the lack of long-term job security and existing employment rights did not make this an attractive option in most cases. Therefore ASCL will only recommend fixed term contracts for exceptional circumstances.

Council strongly supported the recommendation for a greater pay differential between the highest paid classroom teacher and leadership team members, based on greater vulnerability and responsibility and the need to make senior leadership roles more attractive. The STRB has not held this view in the past.

There also was overall agreement that the terminology of 'deputy head' and 'assistant head' is not helpful, as roles vary hugely between schools. Council advised that these titles should be phased out in the long term, as a flatter structure consisting of a head/principal and vice-principal posts better reflected the changing nature of school leadership. Stepped pay and levels of responsibility would still be accommodated.

In regard to work and holiday entitlement, a legal minimum guarantee (beyond that afforded by European law) would be welcomed, especially for senior leaders other than the head, as long as it did not reduce schools' flexibility to unreasonable levels. One suggestion was to follow a model from further education, where staff have a leave entitlement to a number of days be taken at agreed points in the year, rather than a traditional holiday entitlement.

While Council strongly endorsed equal pay and conditions for teaching and non-teaching senior leaders, it was recognised that the same holiday and work patterns would not be feasible. However, more work does need to be done to raise the status of non-teaching senior leaders in all schools. Changing pay and conditions will not fully address this.

Finally, Council members expressed concern that, looking towards a future of extended schools and federations, NCSL and other bodies seem to have accepted already that heads' role should focus less on teaching and learning.

The majority of Council stated that, to have credibility with staff, the 'chief executive' of a school must have an education background and must have overall responsibility for teaching and learning. Opinion was divided on whether, in the long-term, this would mean having QTS. While the traditional duties of 'headship' will increasingly need to be divided among more than one person, responsibility for teaching and learning must remain at the top level.

Intelligent accountability

The second debate at Council was to respond to a draft ASCL report on progress towards intelligent accountability, to be published later in the year.

While the government two years ago appeared to be making real progress towards reducing the number of accountability measures, in particular through the 'new relationship with schools', changes at implementation stage and a raft of new initiatives have meant that ASCL members today are faced with as much, if not more, bureaucracy and government control. This document will report ASCL's views on what needs to be done to rescue intelligent accountability.

The first major concern was Ofsted. While Council members were still in favour of the new inspection framework, there were serious objections to the proposals for more frequent inspections for 'satisfactory' schools and local authorities' increasing powers to intervene in 'schools causing concern'. Council urged that ASCL's campaign to remove both of these powers continue with vigour.

Council's long-standing position has been to oppose performance tables on the grounds that they are divisive and do not give a true picture of achievement. However ASCL also recognises that calling for an immediate end to league tables is futile.

Instead, Council acknowledged that the school profile, once the current failings of technology and implementation are resolved, could provide a more robust measure of performance and achievement. It agreed to recommend that the school profile eventually replace performance tables as the primary accountability measure.

While most Council members agree with the aims laid out in the Every Child Matters agenda and extended schools initiative, there are serious reservations about the associated accountability measures and targets - the new standards for healthy school lunches being a prime example.

This complex agenda will need very careful monitoring and it was agreed that ASCL will call for the government to be focused and realistic about the contribution that schools are expected to make. The Implementation Review Unit should have a central role in assessing and advising on the extended schools framework before any decisions are made.

All of these points will be taken up in ASCL's upcoming publication on intelligent accountability.

School profile

Serious concerns again were raised in committees regarding the school profile. While problems accessing and entering the data are common knowledge, of more immediate concern was the letter that the DfES has sent to chairs of governors informing them that the head had not yet submitted the school profile.

This was strongly opposed for a number of reasons, but primarily because of the lack of trust in heads that it demonstrates, the awkward and unfair position in which it places the chair of governors, and the fact that the deadline for completing the school profiles isn't until the end of term. Marcia Twelftree said she would convey these sentiments to the DfES at the Implementation Review Unit meeting the following week and John Dunford agreed to raise it as a matter of priority with the relevant civil servants.

ASCL still is advising members that they have until 31 July to complete the profile, despite any requests from the DfES that it be made available to parents earlier.

Backing for GTC standards

As ASCL's GTC representative, Tony Neal reported that, following discussion with some of the teaching unions, in the latest version of the new standards for classroom teachers, a statement affirming the need for teachers to uphold the GTC's standards was taken out.

Tony urged Council to request that this reference be reinstated. Council agreed that it was right for teachers to be required to adhere to the GTC standards and gave its support to the request.

11-19 policy

The Education Committee put forward a policy paper setting out the association's principles for an 11-19 curriculum and qualification structure. The paper also proposes a two-stage process for moving toward an 11-19 curriculum, and the steps needed to achieve it.

ASCL's Education Consultant Jim Collins said that the paper consolidates many of the curriculum and assessment policies that ASCL has advocated in recent years. He acknowledged that many of the changes ASCL has been fighting for have not yet been achieved - there is much work yet to do.

Council approved the policy paper and a copy is included in the July mailing.

Budgets and funding

The Funding Committee discussed a number of issues, starting with the 2005-06 budget. Funding Consultant Lindsey Wharmby is interested to know whether schools actually have seen a 6 per cent budget increase, or whether this money has been diverted elsewhere.

If schools have not had a 6 per cent increase, she would be keen to have specific examples, which will help her in arguing schools' case at meetings with the DfES. Members with lower than expected budget increases are asked to contact her on lindsey.wharmby@ascl.org.uk

The committee discussed the recent guidance on extended schools, which was summed up as "appalling" in terms of its approach to funding. Essentially, the guidance asserts that schools already have enough funding for extended activities in the school standards grant and if they don't, they should simply charge for the additional services. Members agreed that ASCL will need to send an urgent response to the government pointing out the serious flaws in this approach. John Dunford and others will take this up as a matter of urgency.

Local authority powers

The DfES guidance document on 'schools causing concern', is causing serious concern to Council members.

The increase in powers of local authorities contradicts the basic principles of the New Relationship with Schools, the time scale of 15 days to show action to improve was viewed as outrageous, and it was agreed that most local authorities do not have the capacity and skills to carry out this role competently.

John Dunford will continue to challenge the DfES on this issue and Council's objections will be highlighted in the imminent ASCL report on intelligent accountability.

Constitution changes

The AGM was held on the Thursday of Council, with the major item of business being proposed changes to the constitution. These included the adoption of a technical change in the re-election of the general secretary and a new process for the election of future general secretaries, which would be enshrined in the by-laws. The opportunity was also taken to tidy up some anomalies in the constitution.

The constitutional changes and by-laws were adopted and members will receive a copy of the amended constitution in September.

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