Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Positive news

Ignore the media critics, says Brian Lightman. There are hundreds of success stories worth celebrating. 

In my first weeks as ASCL president, I have already witnessed many different success stories that have arisen from the efforts of school and college leaders.

In a recent event at Forest Gate School in East London, school councillors demonstrated the enormous power of student voice as they confidently and articulately told a large, eminent audience about their role in improving the quality of education in their school.

Similar stories of the way in which students are key partners in school leadership have been evident at our joint ASCL/SSAT conferences on leading learning. There we have heard about the role they play in classroom observation, curriculum development and the appointment of staff, including their heads and deputies.

As part of ASCL's major ongoing research project into partnership and collaboration, visits to numerous schools and colleges around the country have provided a wealth of evidence of excellent practice. These will be highlighted in a publication on the findings in January.

ASCL Council received a progress report on the research in September which clearly demonstrated that the association will be making another significant contribution to developing our education system with the findings of this project.

In all of these ways, ASCL members not only act as leading professionals within their organisations but contribute enormously in terms of system leadership. Our job is about seeking and implementing solutions however great the challenges are. Seeing the results and receiving feedback from our students and their families is a source of great satisfaction.

Sadly, there are those for whom these stories are not newsworthy enough. The night before improved attendance figures were published, the headline of a widely read newspaper warned: 'Truancy rates set to soar'. In a year in which key stage 3 results continued a trend of improvement, a miniscule dip in some indicators was described by the media in cataclysmic terms.

School and college leaders know that standards are not raised overnight. The impatience of some critics of our education system is hugely frustrating.

We know that genuine and sustainable developments arise from long-term efforts, not quick fixes, and we know that performance indicators are only meaningful when analysed in terms of trends over a number of years.

We also know that denigration and a culture of blame leads to demoralisation and failure, whereas a can-do culture based on shared goals, shared ownership and high expectations invariably leads to success.

During the next year or two we have an unprecedented opportunity to innovate within the curriculum at key stage 3 and for 14-19 year olds. We welcome these opportunities and are pleased that our requests to lengthen the timescale have at least in part been heeded.

Nevertheless we are under no illusions about the scale of this challenge or how much is at stake for our place in the global economy.

At our November Council meeting which coincides with the 11 Million takeover day, I will be handing over my presidential chain and the chair of ASCL Council to students from Lawrence Sheriff School in Rugby who will lead one of our debates.

As we rise to the challenge of empowering a generation of teachers and middle leaders who have spent their entire careers in a period of close regulation of the curriculum, we look forward to hearing the views these students wish to contribute. We know they will be worth hearing.

Brian Lightman

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