Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

White paper leaves egg on the face?

David Johnson

We should have seen it coming. When the Tomlinson report was published in the autumn, the heavy hand of Downing Street should have prepared us for bad news.

What none of us had expected was the curate's egg (some would say dog's breakfast) which best describes the white paper.

The removal of the over-arching diploma is the most serious loss, but in reality the deficiencies in the white paper go well beyond this single issue.

The underlying assumption is that there is no problem with academic education or the qualifications associated with it.

There is a serious lack of detail in the white paper which is a real concern for all. Employers have commented on this, and it should not be thought that they are happy with the proposals.

While there is a general welcome for the new vocational diplomas, several groups representing management have concern.

Quoted in People Management, Victoria Gill of the CIPD said she was "disappointed" at the lack of a single diploma for academic and vocational qualifications. She went on: "This could increase differentiation between the two and mean that vocational studies will continue to struggle to gain credibility."

I called the white paper a curate's egg. If it is "good in parts", which parts? If there is one thoroughly positive aspect to the white paper it is the section on collaboration.

It is clear to most of us that any effective 14-19 curriculum will need schools, colleges, training providers and employers to work much more closely together than they did in the past. The white paper is very clear about this.

In general terms, where it has adhered to the genuine Tomlinson proposals, there are nuggets of goodness. Unfortunately, a few tidbits within a mixture still leave the whole looking like a canine morning snack.

Don't mourn, organise

What can and should we do about this? In the words of the immortal American Trade Unionist Joe Hill, "Don't mourn, organise!"

I believe that the white paper has so many weaknesses that it cannot be the final word. Since we know that the election has almost certainly provoked this mess, let's use this opportunity.

If individual SHA members write to the candidates of all parties in their area asking them to lay out their position on the white paper and indicating the unhappiness of education leaders with the abandonment of Tomlinson, it could have an effect.

Above all, we should back our judgment with action. SHA members may be unlikely revolutionaries, but we could be very effective. Why not get together in groups of schools in your own area and talk to the local FE college about local Level 1 accreditation?

Have you established a good working relationship with your local LSC? Would they be prepared to sponsor Tomlinson-style diplomas at all levels? This is already happening in Tamworth in Staffordshire, where every student who gained the appropriate GCSEs was given a locally generated Level 1 certificate last year.

One of the alleged reasons for the failure to accept Tomlinson was the opposition of the CBI. I suspect that many employers in your area will not have contributed to this view, and will be confused by the government's decision.

Business links

A senior team member might offer to brief local Chamber of Commerce meetings about the inadequacies of the white paper proposals, and the ways in which collaboration with employers might be improved.

Another place to flex your muscles is with QCA and the examining boards. SHA members are often in prominent positions in the advisory boards of these organisations, and would be able to raise continuing concerns about the failure to reform assessment.

Remember the effect Cato's constant repetition of "Delenda est Carthago" had on the fate of Rome's chief Mediterranean rival.

Perhaps SHA members could insert the phrase, "the assessment burden must be reduced," into every speech they make in appropriate gatherings. This should also be a matter that WAMG puts at the top of its priority list, and SHA members are in a position to make this happen.

Above all, SHA members need to act together. Remember the words of Benjamin Franklin to John Hancock at the signing of the Declaration of Independence: "We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

By David Johnson, Director of Learning at Chase Collegiate in Staffordshire

© 2017 Association of School and College Leaders