With debate about the visionless White Paper underway, I thought I would contribute with this outline of a blueprint for reforming our system, pulling together ideas from various sources that make the most sense to me. Much of this echoes ideas shared in the Headteachers’ Roundtable manifesto from last year.
A coherent, integrated system where school autonomy is balanced with the needs of the community; a one-system system where schools are schools and diversity of provision is held together by a stronger over-arching structure. This means removing the Academy vs Maintained distinction. (All claims that one form is better than the other are false). It means ensuring that all schools function within regional authorities that coordinate provision and ensure various safety nets are in place.
- There are no academies, maintained or free schools; just schools.
- No school is an island; all schools have responsibilities within a system, serving the communities in which they are located.
- Directing the maximum funding to schools is the best way to ensure money is spent directly on provision for children.
- No school should have greater freedoms in relation to admissions or the curriculum than another of the same phase.
- All schools should operate within the authority of a local/regional structure that governs safeguarding, admissions, the allocation of SEND places, exclusions and alternative provision.
- All school land and buildings are publicly owned; no profits can be made from educational provision.
The English system should be made up of local School Partnerships accountable to larger regional authorities. Numerous models of School Partnership are acceptable. Multi-school trusts emerging from MATs; federations between self-selecting equal-partner schools; a default model of Community Partnerships emerging from LA-maintained school, run by coordinating bodies funded by the member schools.
Regional authorities have the power to approve School Partnerships ensuring they are not too big or too small; to instruct School Partnerships to absorb schools that are either isolated or under-performing; to approve bids to run new schools to meet school place planning needs, brokering membership of School Partnership as necessary.
Regional authorities have the power to direct independent and selective schools to contribute to the pool of provision available for managing inclusion across the system.
As we push up standards of behaviour across the system, regional authorities will coordinate a network of specialist short-placement behaviour centres to support schools in targeted areas to set a high bar and to safeguard SEND students in the system.
(In the long run, we should aim for a system where all schools are open to all regardless of faith, ability or ability to pay. But that’s a revolution we don’t have time for – and probably won’t for decades. Still, this principle should influence the direction of travel).
A national curriculum common to all learners in all settings; a curriculum founded on the ancient principles of the Trivium that provides all learners with strong foundations in literacy and mathematics, a deep and wide core knowledge base with room for stage-appropriate diversification and proportionate value given to character-forming experiences within and beyond the classroom as an intrinsic feature of an English education. A fully-inclusive curriculum framework that allows all learners to achieve success, leaving school with recognition for their successes and achievements in every aspect of their education.
- A national curriculum should apply to all learners in the nation. It should remain stable enough to enable the development of high quality supporting resources and to enable each new generation of teachers to focus on building their expertise in curriculum, assessment and pedagogy.
- The curriculum prescribed nationally should define a strong core within a wider content framework that can be determined locally. This should include humanities, languages, arts and sciences at least to 16 and maths and English up to 18.
- The upper secondary curriculum should have a Baccalaureate-style structure spanning the 14-19 age-range encompassing academic learning and personal development for all with academic and technical elements included on an equal basis as appropriate to the context.
- Public Examinations should not confine or define the curriculum; over time, exams should move closer to the piano-exam model where students can gain success when-ready at the most appropriate challenge level accumulating accreditation over time at the highest level they can reach across different elements of the curriculum.
Introduce an independent body to oversee the National Curriculum, accountable to Parliament but removing powers from the Secretary of State to determine the details; introduce 10-year reform periods to ensure stability beyond the short-term influence of the electoral cycle.
Introduce the National Baccalaureate for England across all phases. This would include a one-level Primary Bacc with a Secondary Bacc at Advanced, Intermediate, Foundation and Entry levels to be awarded to school leavers aged 18/19. This would include a national transcript for recording every students’ achievements. Ensure that every provider is offering a Personal Development Programme offering high value opportunities to all learners. (Centre-devised PDPs will sit alongside large scale programmes such as AQABacc, PiXLEdge, National Citizen Service, DofE etc)
Phase in tiered when-ready examinations in maths and English language; develop a wider range of Level 2 qualifications and slim-volume Level 3 qualifications in traditional subjects (like IB Std level) that can be studied up to 18 to broaden the scope of accreditation within the Nat Bacc framework. Meanwhile, ensure all GCSE grades are promoted as measures of achievement.
Teachers and Teaching:
Teaching as the go-to profession for graduates across all subject disciplines, attracted not only by the intrinsic moral purpose of the profession but by the quality of professional learning, the opportunity for personal development; positive working conditions and high-trust school cultures appropriate for a high-status profession at the centre of the national agenda for transformation and social justice.
- Entry into and progression within the profession should be straight-forward and coordinated. Schools and ITT providers should form part of a single coherent system that recognises the value of learning from experience in the classroom and the value of teachers having a strong understanding of educational theory and the associated evidence base.
- Entry into teaching should be flexible; a funnel allowing people to enter the system from a range of circumstances.
- Once accepted into the ITT system, there should be an incremental structure of high value teacher accreditation that allows teachers to develop both their knowledge-base and competency-base throughout their career.
- Professional learning should be built into the routine structure of teachers’ working lives and factored in a core element of school funding.
- School leaders are the key agents for determining teacher workload and the professional culture within schools. There are damaging system-wide assumptions and expectations of teachers (excessive marking, report-writing, data collection, appraisal documentation, intervention teaching) that have low impact to effort ratios; radical change is needed to build a high-trust, high impact professional culture.
- Individual teacher accountability should be replaced by collective accountability; individual goals replaced by team goals. Again, this represents a radical cultural shift that school leaders should engineer.
Reform ITT into three phases:
Stage 1: Entry. A two or three year phase combining academic learning and practical learning. Completion to include in-school assessment and examinations in subject-specific pedagogical content and general pedagogical principles.
Stage 2: Mastery: Teachers work towards a Masters level professional qualification taken typically after five years. Includes in-school assessment, examinations and a depth study.
Stage 3: Career: Nationally recognised professional learning modules can be taken when ready. Career progression could be linked to evidence of engagement with ongoing professional learning.
The National College should determine the specifications for all the assessments.
The training of school leaders should be given higher status under the direction of a reformed NCSL and, supported by the DFE, professional associations and OfSTED, there should be deliberate movement to engineer the culture shifts indicated above.
An accountability system designed to ensure that standards rise continually and that safety-nets work effectively whilst avoiding creating disproportionate negative pressure and perverse incentives. It is a humane, intelligent accountability system that fuels a positive spiral of improvement, incentivising teachers to join and remain in the profession – not the reverse cycle like the one we’re in now.
The drive for ever-increasing standards in the quality of education – including outcomes and the quality of every student’s school experience – comes from within the community that a school serves. This includes the teachers; high calibre teachers who are motivated and supported to provide mutual challenge and trusted to put their professional expertise into practice. It also includes parents, employers and other stakeholders who should have a voice in the running of the schools in their community.
Our integrated system includes agents of accountability responsible for maintaining the safety nets and for making the regional structures work effectively.
- The purpose of all accountability mechanisms is to highlight strengths and weaknesses, to facilitate the process of generating a consensus around standards, to identify problems to solve and to point to solutions. It is not to rank, to label or to place guns to our heads.
- The main focus on accountability is on the quality of inputs, not on measuring outputs: the curriculum, the CPD, the level of ambition embodied in the school vision, leadership capacity and so on.
- Schools should be known; teachers should be known. This requires accountability processes based on continuous engagement with schools and teachers where challenge and support are intrinsically linked.
- Public accountability is achieved through reporting school strengths and areas for improvement alongside data indicators and cohort profiles. There are no overall judgement grades or inspection reports based on short visits.
- Data measures inform the accountability process but there is no room for artificially constructed aggregate data measures such as P8 (in this blueprint we have ditched data-garbage methodology).
School Partnerships should provide mutual challenge and operate benchmarking mechanisms and at the curriculum level. School Partnerships are responsible for quality assurance across their partnership, writing public reports of strengths and areas for development on a two-year cycle.
OfSTED’s role is to monitor each Regional Authority which, in turn, will quality assure the accountability structures within School Partnerships. This keeps processes as close to the ground as possible, overseen by people who know schools well; in depth and detail and in context.
Use of baseline and outcome cohort profiles and examination results will feature in annual data reports published by each school alongside a commentary from the School Partnership. We do not replace the complexity of the truth with the illusion of simplicity.
In the absence of single-grade judgements and single-measure data labels, schools will focus on continual improvement at the level of the inputs. The era of hoop-jumping and window-dressing will be a thing of the past. Every school is an improving school.
Where significant concerns emerge, School Partnerships can intervene or, if required, the Regional authority can transfer schools into new partnerships where greater support can be offered. OfSTED’s role is to monitor the rigour at this level; not at school level.
Hopefully, this all adds up to something a bit more coherent than the White Paper is offering. It’s not a quick fix but it is all achievable if the will is there to move forward in this direction.
Sign up for our White Paper event on July 1st: HTRT Think Tank.
It’s also worth reading the ASCL Blueprint for a Self-improving System. There’s a lot of overlap with what I’ve written here.