Fresh perspectives - new focus
We were delighted to welcome 26 new representatives to ASCL Council on 21-22 September in Warwick. The number of deputy and assistant heads and bursars on Council continues to grow and their fresh perspective in debates and committee work is especially valuable.
Council began with reports from the officers on developments since the last meeting in June. General Secretary John Dunford spoke about his work with the DfES on the school profile. As of September, 2,500 schools still had not accessed their profile. The DfES has acknowledged the level of problems and errors.
Officials have listened to concerns raised by ASCL on behalf of members and have agreed to redesign the profile to change the way the data is presented.
President Malcolm Trobe alerted Council to a change in direction in the Every Child Matters agenda for schools. The DfES has stated that schools should focus on the ECM aim 'achieving and enjoying' - the other four aims should support this. This message will go to Ofsted and local authorities.
Council then moved to committee work in the afternoon.
Key stage 3 curriculum changes
The committee heard a presentation by Sue Horner of the QCA who outlined the proposed changes to the key stage 3 curriculum.
The QCA's aim has been to give greater flexibility to teachers, greater coherence for the curriculum as a whole and increased opportunity for personalising learning.
The new focus will be on key concepts and processes rather than specific content. QCA is developing a web-based tool for schools to use to review current provision and refresh whole curriculum plans through a set of perspectives or 'curriculum lenses'. Possible lenses include diversity, personal development and functional skills.
The committee felt the changes as presented would be a welcome improvement. A few points were raised: There will be new chances to link with key stage 2, but this is a lost opportunity to review KS2 and 3 as a whole. A question was raised about the impact on schools where KS3 is becoming a two-year programme. Sue said the new system should be sufficiently flexible to support this.
A working group is drafting ASCL's response to the review for the next committee meeting.
Fair funding priorities
The committee discussed the implications of a possible coherent funding regime for 14-19. All agreed that the new 14-19 curriculum will not work without the requisite funding and appropriate funding model. ASCL is holding a seminar to produce a discussion paper on the issues.
Funding Consultant Lindsay Wharmby presented a paper on fair funding in schools, showing major disparities across the country. Some schools with 3 to 8 per cent free school meals are getting more funding per pupil than some schools elsewhere with 30 to 35 per cent free school meals.
The committee agreed the main priorities for ASCL's fair funding agenda:
A more equitable distribution mechanism, nationally and locally.
Funding based on a basic entitlement.
Activity-led funding model relevant to students' needs.
A more realistic area cost adjustment.
Clearer definition of the funding responsibilities of local authorities and central government.
Ensuring that local formulae reflect relative need and that schools forums operate effectively.
Funding implications of new initiatives.
Performance management and workload
Pay and conditions committee
The committee welcomed the delay in the performance management regulations until September 2007. The committee considered that there is an issue regarding confidentiality in large schools where all senior leaders (not just the head) need to access relevant performance reviews. The role of the school improvement partner relating to the head's review still needs clarification. ASCL is working on both of these issues.
In regard to new professional standards for teachers, the committee expressed concern about the mismatch with the threshold standards. Beyond the 13 standards for threshold, there are an additional 32 for NQT and induction. Some overlap, some do not; not all are progressive.
Local authority powers
Public and parliamentary committee
The committee expressed growing concern over local authority powers to intervene in schools which are "relatively underperforming". Two committee members reported back from DfES roadshows on the new guidance Schools Causing Concern which would give LAs wide ranging power to intervene in 'at risk' schools.
Particularly damaging is the assumption that LAs have the ability to turn around schools, the focus on punitive measures rather than support, and the overriding of the SIP process.
ASCL has already set out its concerns in the latest paper on intelligent accountability; officers are also raising the matter directly with ministers.
Debate on NPQH review
Debates are carried out on the second day of Council. With a review of the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) pending, Council members aired their views on the qualification.
A widely held opinion was that NPQH does not adequately prepare candidates to become heads and that some who are achieving the standard clearly are not ready for headship.
Intangibles like resilience and taking difficult decisions cannot be assessed by a tick box but still need to be addressed. Whilst NPQH helps develop skills and expertise in a school situation, there is no substitute for actual experience.
In some cases, heads are approving people for NPQH whom they know are not ready because there is no other equivalent professional development available.
Several commented that completing a master's degree was better preparation for headship than NPQH; they supported accreditation of prior learning.
It was felt that formal leadership development should begin much earlier in teachers' careers and should be available at several stages, particularly when moving into the leadership team.
Rather than a single qualification, many Council members argued for a diploma system with progressive levels as leaders move forward in their career. Levels could comprise units and build up points, similar to an Open University model.
ASCL will reflect these points in its discussions with NCSL about the NPQH review.
Debate on new admissions code
This debate was to respond to the DfES consultation on the new admissions code. Council agreed a set of broad principles of good admissions practice.
However, through the debate, the broad church that makes up ASCL's membership soon became evident, with widely varying views on what works well and constitutes a fair system.
Some members have local systems that work very differently, operating under different principles, but that function equally well. Council agreed that, in the consultation response, ASCL should argue for some flexibility in local arrangements.
However, there was unanimous agreement on the need to reform the appeal system, which appears weighted against schools and is a major contributor to the increase in senior leaders' workload.
Council agreed that ASCL needs to challenge the assumption that parents have blanket right of appeal in all circumstances. Specifically, it called for there to be criteria applied for the grounds on which someone could appeal.
ASCL is making this point strongly in its written submission to the admissions consultation document.
PWC Review of School Leadership
Council forum, held on Thursday afternoon, lets representatives engage with a guest speaker on a topical issue. This time, David Armstrong from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) updated Council members on the progress of the review of school leadership and sought views from members.
He started by thanking ASCL for the evidence it has given in its written submission, in the book Leadership that Lasts and in face to face discussion. ASCL's arguments have shaped PWC's thinking and many of the points we believe will be reflected in the final recommendations.
The research so far has consisted of consultation meetings, visits to 45 schools, a review of literature, conversations with associations and organisations, and a review of trends in the private sector.
PWC is now underpinning this qualitative research with a quantitative survey of 1,000 schools. The report to the DfES around the end of term will contain specific, actionable recommendations.
Distributed leadership is a recurring theme and one that has parallels in the private sector which is also moving away from a 'super hero' CEO towards a flatter management team. Distributed leadership is a given, David said; the question is how to make it work.
PWC does not intend to recommend specific management models; they are finding a variety of models that work in different contexts. As David said: "It's more important to have a core team that has the right behaviours."
Following this introduction, Council members raised a number of points with him.
In order to have distributed leadership, the legislation needs to change so that not everything has to go through the head.
There is a lot of enthusiasm for developing the role of non-QTS staff, but pay and conditions are an issue. Out of hours, the business manager can be the most senior person in a school. This is a big responsibility and needs to be recognised.
There is a problem in levels of pay being tied to the numbers of students in a school. A head of a small secondary school can make just a few thousand more than a deputy of a large school.
There must be differentials in pay for the leadership team to incentivise teachers to take on the roles. A private sector model, where a salesperson may make more than a senior manager, does not apply to schools.
Heads and school leaders cannot carry on under current levels of scrutiny and pressure. The ones putting the most pressure on schools, usually in local authorities, are not necessarily those who know how to improve a school. Leaders end up spending more time looking over their shoulder than at what is best for the school and the students.
David assured the audience that he would take these points back to PWC and the review and that they resonated with the research gathered thus far.
Further information from Council including the General Secretary's report is available at www.ascl.org.uk under About us and ASCL Council.
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