A leadership view of the White Paper

Written by: Duncan Baldwin | Published:
Image: MA Education

The government may have changed its mind on compulsory academisation, but there is a lot more to the White Paper than this. ASCL’s Duncan Baldwin offers his analysis from a leadership perspective

The White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, has received a lot of publicity, largely because the government caused uproar by expressing the intention that every school should become an academy by 2022.

The Department for Education has now said that it will not introduce legislation to this effect after all. However, there are several other very important proposals which must not be overlooked.

Like any White Paper, it is a mixture of ideas which are at different stages of development. Some chapters, such as that devoted to high expectations and curriculum, are mainly broad restatements of existing policies already being implemented.

Others, such as the chapter on resources, signpost recent announcements and consultations, and others refer to policies which have very little detail as yet, but express the government’s broad intentions.

No doubt there will be a period of time during which more detail is established and where the profession will be consulted.

Overall, the White Paper signals the government’s intention to move further towards a school-led, self-improving system, a process which started during the last government.

This direction of travel echoes the Association of School and College Leaders’ (ASCL) blueprint for a self-improving system, entitled Leading the Way, which was launched in early 2015.

We believe that for our system to achieve greatness to match the best jurisdictions in the world, the leadership of change must come from within the profession; there is nothing more to be gained by government attempting to mandate improvement in a top-down fashion.

Among the specific proposals in our blueprint is a greater focus on professional learning and development. It also envisages more collaboration between schools to support one another and create the capacity for system-wide roles like initial teacher education and research and development.

Those who have studied the White Paper will recognise that these proposals are reflected in some of its elements. We are pleased that ministers are committed to working with the new Foundation for Leadership in Education, set up by ASCL, the National Association of Head Teachers and the National Governors’ Association, to guide future leadership development.

Where we strongly disagreed with the government view, however, was over the now-abandoned policy of compulsory academisation of all schools.

There are many very good academies and there are many very good maintained schools. It is not their organisational structure which determines this success, but the quality of teaching and leadership, and it is on this that we should focus. It follows that the compulsory academisation of every school is unnecessary and unfair.

Likewise, no school should feel that it has to become part of a partnership. We think that there can be enormous benefits from doing so and that this can be achieved through both multi-academy trusts and federations of maintained schools. However, some schools have the capacity to standalone and their choice must also be respected, as the government has acknowledged.

It may be helpful to think about the areas covered in the White Paper in three overarching themes:

  • Staying in control of your destiny. The government will legislate further to introduce new mechanisms on top of those which already exist to introduce more academisation. School leaders need to find ways of managing this process.
  • Getting the right people with the right skills into the right roles. The White Paper has proposals around recruitment and retention of teachers and school leaders, particularly into areas of the country where this is more difficult, as well as changes to qualified teacher status and professional qualifications.
  • Ensuring challenge and support. The White Paper proposes that the local authority role in school improvement will decrease – local authorities will be expected to refocus on essential areas such as provision of places and meeting the needs of vulnerable children. Teaching School Alliances and system leaders will be increasingly mandated to provide school-to-school support. We need to ensure that there is enough support in all areas of the country.

There are a number of things the White Paper does not say. For example, there are several references to Ofsted, such as consulting over whether the judgement on teaching and learning should be removed, and an “improvement phase” without inspection for schools which have had a change of leadership.

However, there is no articulation of what an inspectorate should look like when we have moved closer to a self-improving system. ASCL’s blueprint sets out what we think should happen – a slim, smart and stable accountability framework with a small number of ambitious goals.

The White Paper also does not say nearly enough about teacher supply. While it does at least acknowledge that recruitment is becoming more difficult, we are not convinced it recognises the scale and urgency of the crisis.

The White Paper proposes reform of the National College for Teaching and Leadership to ensure it is better able to design and deliver well-targeted incentives and teacher recruitment campaigns. This is welcome, but much more action is needed to better incentivise the profession and build a system-wide campaign to attract the brightest and best into teaching.

There is still much discussion and argument to have over this White Paper. Many are exercised about what they see as an assault on local democracy by the proposal to remove the requirement to have parent representatives on governing boards and reducing the roles of local authorities.

Whatever the final detail, however, the move towards a school-led, self-improving system is clear. While there are individual points which need greater clarification and some proposals with which we may not agree, there is a real opportunity to move towards an education system which puts more power in the hands of schools to lead and drive improvement.

Ultimately, our goal is to realise the ambition summed up in a quote which prefaces our blueprint from former New York schools chancellor Joel Klein: “You can mandate adequacy; you can’t mandate greatness. It has to be unleashed.”
We believe it is school leaders who are best placed to unleash that greatness and we must do all we can to seize the moment.

  • Duncan Baldwin is deputy director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders.

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