Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Council news

The future of workforce reform was a major item of discussion at November Council, with a proposal for regulating meetings on the table. Here are the highlights from the meeting, held 23-24 November in Warwick.

Day six exclusions

We knew from the Education and Inspections Act that parents would become responsible for pupils during the first five days of exclusion and schools would have to find alternate education for them from day six. However the recent consultation states that the 'sixth day' rule would apply to cumulative exclusions throughout the year. ASCL has made it clear to government that this is unacceptable and would place an unrealistic burden on school resources. (Update: The DfES has agreed to reconsider this position. See Policy change on day six exclusions.)

A level results date

It came to ASCL's attention that, in the gradual move to post-qualification application to university (PQA), A level results day may be moving forward by a week in 2008, giving school leaders no full two-week break during the holiday. John Morgan, ASCL's representative on the HE admissions group, emphasised that this is one stage on the way to full PQA. John Dunford is raising the concern with ministers that the work-life balance of school leaders must not deteriorate further because of the shift to PQA.

SIPs update

The Pay and Conditions Committee discussed concerns about SIPs and the duality of the role. Some heads have stated that they cannot be as honest in performance management (PM) as they would like because they are worried that confidential issues are going back to the local authority. Some LAs seem to be encouraging SIPs to 'report back' on heads' PM. This is not allowed. Members should seek clarification from the SIP that anything said during PM is confidential and goes only to the governing body. ASCL will continue to monitor the SIPs situation and to give regular feedback to the DfES SIP team.

Coursework consultation

Education Committee held a debate on coursework, which brought out a wide variety of opinions, ranging from abolish it all to retain it in its present form for some subjects. The committee agreed that:

  • In its present form, coursework doesn't work.

  • Assessment must be fit for purpose - this is not the case at the moment.

  • Decision to abolish or diminish coursework needs to be made subject by subject.

  • Need to keep some method of developing students' problem solving and redaction skills.

  • If extended projects at 14-19 are to work, students will need to have some experience of coursework.

The committee will use the points as the basis of ASCL policy on coursework.

Behaviour information

Public and Parliamentary Committee members are working with the NASUWT to update and reissue the joint information pack on managing behaviour as there have been a number of new regulations since the pack was first issued in 2003.

The committee endorsed the work and asked that it be made available online so that members can adapt and re-badge the information for their school. The committee also asked that it be made clear on the pack that it is for guidance use only - it is not ASCL policy that members are bound to use it.

Funding policy

The Funding Committee has reviewed ASCL's funding policy and priorities and agreed a revised version of these. The paper will be published in January and posted to all members.

The committee also discussed funding of the 14-19 diplomas. There was widespread concern that without first having seen the curriculum models, it is very difficult for anyone to have an informed discussion about costs. However the government must realise that costs will vary for every institution; rural schools are particularly vulnerable. There was a more fundamental concern whether the diplomas will ever work in practice without serious damage to the rest of the curriculum.

Plenary debate: Modern foreign languages

Full Council held a debate on modern foreign languages to inform ASCL's response to the Dearing consultation. Brian Lightman reported on a seminar he attended with Lord Dearing.

It was widely agreed that the answer is not a return to compulsory GCSE. Comments during the debate were as follows.

The Language Ladder is helpful but additional funding is needed to assess these qualifications. Can this be subsidised?

The government must recognise that language GCSEs are more difficult. There is evidence from language colleges to support this. Sue Kirkham stated that QCA is looking at GCSE standards across subjects.

To attract students, the curriculum needs a complete overhaul to make it more interesting and engaging. There is good practice in language colleges, for instance single sex teaching of languages, which has raised attainment. Language learning needs to be incentivised.

There are real problems recruiting good language teachers. Better training is needed, including at key stages 2 and 3. There is a role here for the TDA.

There should be a language entitlement between 14-19 rather than compulsory GCSE. However, there is a danger that diplomas will kill off foreign language teaching altogether. There is not enough time to teach it properly.

Languages must start in primary school but it needs to be properly resourced. Primary pupils should be exposed to multiple languages.

Comments from Council were collated and formed the basis of ASCL's discussions with Lord Dearing.

Plenary debate: Workforce reform

Pay and Conditions Consultant Stephen Szemerenyi gave an update on the work of WAMG and led a wide-ranging debate about the next steps in workforce reform. Specifically he asked Council to support a proposal, reviewed by Pay and Conditions Committee, to take to the social partnership about clarifying the guidance on meetings in Circular 2/98.

Stephen's update included the following items:

Heads' workload: There has been very little progress on this, except to acknowledge that it is still a major problem. ASCL has been pushing this in WAMG and is looking for good practice to circulate. Please contact Stephen if you can contribute.

Cover: Average cover hours per teacher have gone from a maximum of 38 hours to 19 hours but this has plateaued. The workforce agreement says that schools should be working toward a position of 'rarely cover' but there is no deadline. Stephen urged members to have plans in place to work toward this. Unless schools are seen to be proactive, other unions will keep pushing and we may be forced into regulation which will specify a time limit and ruling on the definition of 'rarely'.

Downward pressure: The workforce agreement aim was to reduce teachers' working week from 52 hours to 45. Some progress has been made but it has plateaued at about 49. Again, it would be prudent to highlight in operational plans the need to move toward this.

No detriment: This has always been meant to be taken in totality. Schools have a right to add to teachers' duties (ie more teaching) if the overall total has gone down (no more invigilation, cover etc) as long as it's within the overall limit. Workforce reform does not necessarily mean teachers do less work; it means they make better use of their time.

Single status: The Support Staff Working Group report will have gone to Jim Knight in December. This may very well have an impact on the effect of the single status agreement in schools.

Pay standards: It has been agreed that the professional standards framework is progressive and that induction/main scale standards underpin the other standards. The head should be satisfied that a teacher meets the induction/main scale standards, via performance management, before assessing threshold standards. This looks as if threshold is a two-stage assessment process and therefore additional work. Stephen assured that it does not have to be.

During debate, the following views were expressed by Council representatives.

The expectation to reduce teacher workload as stated in the agreement is undeliverable. It will not be achieved until class sizes are reduced and changes made to the assessment regime, and these are out of leaders' hands.

Schools could reach 'never cover' but only if they were to reduce CPD - there is a trade off. Picking up on this point, Stephen said that teachers need to be reminded that the workforce agreement should be seen as a package. By far the gains they have achieved outweigh the losses. Gained time must be used for professional activity.

Regarding heads' work-life balance, the only way to tackle it is to look at hours spent on leadership (non-contact time) in school, or raise the number on the senior leadership team. SLT members will have to be more disciplined about their own work-life balance. One way to improve WLB is for SLT to teach less.

We have to keep pushing for national pay and conditions for support staff or workforce reform will not work.

Circular 2/98

The Pay and Conditions Committee held a long discussion on workforce reform and Circular 2/98. The main issue was meetings, in the context of the pressure felt by some ASCL members from local teacher union reps who make strict demands on meeting time. Currently there is no statutory regulation on when and how often to hold meetings.

Stephen Szemerenyi believes that regulation could benefit members and recommended a proposal to take to the social partnership. The committee agreed a number of principles which were taken to the whole Council debate.

The ASCL proposal puts forward the case for a maximum number of hours for meetings, annualised, for teaching staff without responsibilities, with a higher figure for teachers in receipt of TLRs to reflect their additional levels of responsibility. Heads should be free to determine within an annualised total the pattern that best suits their circumstances and context. There should be no weekly limit or time limit, as the need varies throughout the year.

The goal would be to have nearly all meetings calendared, but some flexibility would be required. Council members felt that a clear definition of a meeting was required but they were happy with the ASCL proposal to exempt briefings and one-to-one sessions from the annual limit. The proposed total includes parent consultation meetings but not open evenings.

Council approved the proposal to go to WAMG.

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