Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Council news

Hands holing up papers

The first order of business was to extend congratulations to Vice President Brian Lightman, head of St Cyres School in Penarth, Wales, who was elected unopposed as ASCL president for 2007-08.

Requests for data

Ongoing problems with RaiseOnline have brought to a head ASCL's concerns about the additional workload being generated by data requests from the DfES, LSC and local authorities that cannot be collected from existing management information systems (MIS). Therefore, Council passed the following resolution:

ASCL considers that the only data requests that schools and colleges should process are requests for information that can be readily accessed from the school or college MIS. The DfES, local authorities and other bodies authorised to request data must have the appropriate software in place to read the data directly from the MIS. This software must be fully tested and robust. All MIS software should be designed with interoperability as a key principle so that software programs from different suppliers are fully compatible.

Where this is not the case, ASCL is urging members to turn down the request and to send a note of what was requested, by whom, to malcolm.trobe@ascl.org.uk Officers will be making ASCL's position clear to the DfES, the LSC, local authorities and others.

President's report: LA priorities

Branch secretaries are reporting that, with the move to directors of children's services, education is slipping down the priority agenda in many local authorities. In several cases, there is no one sitting at the top table with a direct background in or responsibility for schools. This is a concern and ASCL will continue to monitor specific areas and intervene where necessary.

Full Council debate: Progress measures and assessment

This debate was based on the DfES consultation document Making Good Progress which proposes four new approaches to measuring progress:

  • 'When-ready' testing for assessment

  • Individual tuition for pupils who fall behind

  • School progress targets (alongside existing targets)

  • A progression premium

Council members were vociferous in their objections to nearly all of the specific proposals in the document.

While there was clear support for when-ready assessment (not necessarily testing), it was only on the condition that this was done instead of the existing key stage tests, rather than in addition to, which seems to be the DfES position, at least during the pilot stage.

The proposed progress targets are based on the simplistic measure of each student gaining two levels during a key stage. The point was strongly made that students do not learn in a linear trajectory - they jump ahead, plateau and then accelarate again - and some students have greater scope to move up two levels than others.

Furthermore, the accompanying mantra 'regular progress for all' directly contradicts the aims of personalised learning, in which students learn at different speeds and in different ways.

There was a more fundamental concern about the validity of key stage tests, which are summative rather than predictive and not reliable in this context.

The idea of a progression premium - extra funding for schools in which students make the most progress - was a non-starter.

These comments will form the basis of ASCL's response to the consultation and to further talks with the DfES.

Full Council debate: PWC report

John Dunford used the Forum session on Thursday evening to give members a half-hour overview of the main points in the PWC report. It was encouraging to see nearly all of ASCL's recommendations appearing in some guise. While the progression from evidence to conclusions to recommendations was tenuous in places, the report contains some strong ideas for development.

The Council debate on Friday honed in first on distributed leadership. While the majority agreed this was something to strive for, it was less clear how to achieve it; the point was made that distributed tasks are not the same as distributed leadership. There was frustration at current regulations which prevent heads from delegating many areas of responsibility - a limitation recognised in the report. Distributing leadership may be an area where ASCL needs to set the agenda.

This discussion flowed neatly into the topic of reward. There was disappointment that the PWC report did not accept ASCL's recommendation for greater differentials between the highest paid classroom teachers and those on the leadership team. ASCL will continue to press for this through the School Teachers' Review Body (STRB). Council members also stressed the need to continue fighting to pay non-teaching staff on the leadership spine.

The Professional Committee will develop ASCL's recommendations on leadership models, CPD issues, capacity building and other leadership development.


Functional skills

The Education Committee received a progress report from the QCA on functional skills (FS) in English, mathematics and ICT which will eventually be incorporated in the specialised diplomas, GCSEs and apprenticeships. Students will need to pass functional skills in order to be able to achieve a grade C at GCSE. QCA is looking at two options - either a stand-alone test prior to GCSE, or making functional skills one paper within the GCSE.

The committee expressed dismay at the way the FS content is developing; consensus was that FS had been a welcome move which may turn into an exam akin to another GCSE, bearing little resemblance to the life skills that students will need.

Beyond content, there was concern that teaching functional maths and English, in the diplomas in particular, could rest with external providers - while this will impact on schools' results, they have no control over it.

Committee members are putting their concerns into a formal paper which Sue Kirkham will present to the QCA in March.

Pre- and post-16 funding

Through Funding Consultant Lindsey Wharmby, ASCL had significant influence on the latest DfES funding consultation document for schools. As predicted, there is likely be a smaller increase in education spending this year than in previous. The Funding Committee discussed the implications and reaffirmed ASCL's policy in favour of a 'school formula spending share' and a minimum funding guarantee at least at cost pressure.

The Funding Committee also discussed the post-16 funding consultation from the LSC. Proposals include moving the count date from September to late October, which should be an improvement. There are two proposed options for determining year-on-year funding. ASCL is supporting the less bureaucratic option. For details see page 9.

Overall there is a move to a more coherent activity-led system across schools and colleges; the impact will depend on the pace of convergence. In its response, ASCL will push for a reasonable implementation timeframe.

On a related note, it appears that the LSC is currently capital-rich: funding is running at 95 per cent. The committee's advice to college members is to bid now for funding.

Schools Causing Concern

The Public and Parliamentary Committee discussed what ASCL's response will be to this consultation document which proposes new intervention powers for local authorities. Concerns centred around:

  • Imbalance of pressure vs support: there needs to be less of the former and more of the latter.

  • Timescale for LA intervention: ASCL is pushing for 25 rather than 15 days.

  • The triggers for LA intervention: ASCL wants this changed so LA must look at these in totality (ie one parental complaint could not trigger intervention).

  • Proposals for parent champions: these are not needed as parent governors should fill this role.

The committee will stress these issues when it makes a formal response to the consultation. ASCL has already expressed its sharp disappointment that the DfES allocated funds to LAs to introduce some of these measures before the formal consultation.

BSF and PFI legacy

'Poison chalice' was the phrase beginning to emerge during Public and Parliamentary Committee in reference to PFI and Building Schools for the Future. There are worries for present leaders and for leaders who will inherit these schools.

Too many areas are being taken out of schools' hands but they still have to pay for them. Already there are some cases where other schools in the LA are having to pick up the tab for shortfalls in PFI schools. Falling rolls will also have an impact and PFI limits the LA's ability to merge and close appropriate schools. ASCL is producing guidance for members affected by BSF and PFI issues.

Proportionate inspection of FE colleges

Professional Committee welcomed the ideas in this consultation document in principle. ASCL will push for a 'single conversation' for colleges but not based on the SIP model, which college members feel is inappropriate. There are also concerns about value added data and problems finding the appropriate baseline statistics. The committee will submit a response to the consultation.

Professional standards

Despite ASCL pushing for the GTC statement of values to be included in the professional standards, it looks likely to only include a reference to 'positive values'. Therefore schools are encouraged to use the statement, as a more robust definition, when they refer to 'positive values'.

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