Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Blame culture

It is irritating that local authorities and the government believe schools have to be told to have regard for children's well being, but ASCL members in the UK are not alone.

It's the same the whole world over; schools get the blame! Certainly it is true in the countries represented at the European School Heads Association (ESHA) conference in November.

Common topics for discussion outside the formal sessions included how schools appear to be culpable for all the ills of society and the responsibilities that are placed on them to improve the situation.

The reality is, more often than not, that society's problems are brought into school, not the other way around. It is only somewhat reassuring to know that UK school leaders are not alone.

We have a recent example of this as the government has succumbed to pressure from the Local Government Association (LGA) to make a last minute amendment to the Education and Inspections Bill which places a statutory duty on schools to promote children's wellbeing and community cohesion.

This is another case of failure to understand the ethos of schools. Well before the arrival of Every Child Matters, schools were promoting the wellbeing of children; after all it is one of our key functions. We have always contributed to community cohesion, and work hard to promote the best possible links with our local community.

It is totally inappropriate to turn this into a duty in primary legislation. Surely at some stage, the government will realise that leaders are committed to continuously improving our schools and the life of young people and that it is more support, not an increase in regulations, that will change things for the better.

It is worrying to think that some local authorities may use this amendment to try to dictate what schools should be doing, rather than supporting schools and ensuring 'joined up thinking' between education and children's social services.

Although it is early days for children's services departments, we are keen to hear how they are working out in practice. It is important that ASCL receives members' views on how things are going. We would like to hear examples of good practice as well as concerns, so that we can pass on helpful suggestions to branch secretaries and authorities.

Single status

On the local authority front, many schools are currently involved in reaching the 'single status' agreement by 31 March 2007. We are getting very worrying messages as to how this process is going.

Some authorities are well down the road and have carried out the job evaluation exercise and are already at the stage of issuing the outcomes whereas others appear to be struggling to meet the deadline.

ASCL's first priority on single status is to protect our bursar and business manager members.

One concern is that those LAs running late are rushing through the evaluation exercise. There is also an overarching concern about the fairness and appropriateness of comparing the jobs of those staff working in schools with those working in the local authority.

There are two diametrically opposed issues emerging from the job evaluation exercise. In some authorities it appears that the job evaluations are leading to support staff being effectively downgraded and given a salary reduction, although there is a protection period built in.

This is certain to have a wider impact on support staff morale.
Other authorities are indicating that the review will lead to an increase in support staff salary costs - about 2 to 5 per cent. Whichever way this lands in a local authority, there are clearly going to be issues for school leaders.

Another concern is the significant implications for schools' plans for further phases of workforce reform. Please keep the association informed of the situation as it affects your school. You can email me at malcolm.trobe@ascl.org.uk

Of course, moments always come along that make leaders remember why we do the job. At the ESHA conference, there was a workshop on student leadership run by four students from two of our members' schools. They were excellent ambassadors for our education system both in their presentation and in the way they conducted themselves throughout the conference.

It was interesting to compare our education service with other countries and I realised that we are better off than many. In Italy there is no professional development programme or financial support for in-service training for anyone in teaching. The only way to get training is to pay for it yourself! 

Many of us did feel a little jealous of the situation in Finland (which is at the top of the PISA comparative attainment tables) where schools are very well funded and resourced. Apparently the Finns are keen on their public services and usually vote for the political party that pledges to raise the taxes most. What will be chance of that happening here in 2009?

By Malcolm Trobe, ASCL President

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