How we can become the world’s best education system...


ASCL this week publishes its blueprint for how we can put our education system on top of the world. Brian Lightman explains.

It is time for this country’s education system to take the next giant leap forward. The challenge to us – educators and government – is having the courage to take that step. This week the Association of School and College Leaders launches a blueprint which sets out what that giant leap looks like and what needs to happen to make it a reality.

It is called Leading the Way: A Blueprint for a self-improving system, because it envisages a system, led by the profession rather than government, which embodies continual improvement. We believe that this is key to unleashing greatness in our schools and making them the best in the world.

The education system in this country is already a good one. Schools and colleges are more effective than they have ever been. Most are good and outstanding. To make further progress, however, requires a fundamental change in thinking.

We have become used to changes centrally prescribed by government – which too often result in unnecessary bureaucracy and perverse incentives. Prescription will not unleash greatness. In the future, improvement needs to be sharper and better focused, and this can only come from the profession itself.

Government will be most effective when it takes a more strategic role and trusts school and college leaders to utilise their experience and expertise to raise the bar to the next level. How, then, can this be done? To find the answer, we consulted widely on this question and used academic evidence and research.

Our blueprint envisages a system in which teachers keep on learning throughout their careers, with groups of schools working together to shape practice, and the establishment of the proposed College of Teaching to support professional learning.

We need a ladder of professional qualifications from initial teacher education through to Master’s degrees and leadership qualifications. The ladder would ensure that all teachers continuously improve their professional practice.

Our blueprint also proposes setting up an independent commission to review the core curriculum once every five years to ensure that changes are introduced in a properly informed and manageable way. The core curriculum would provide a broad framework around which schools would design a curriculum appropriate for their students, giving them deep and broad knowledge and skills.

A national fair funding formula would be established which ends the current disparities in the way funding is allocated and ensures every school has enough money to provide a good education.

The school inspection system would be reformed, creating an inspectorate which reviews performance on the basis of outcomes, rather than involving itself in processes, while schools themselves peer-review one another to further improve standards.

And regional education commissioners would lead a system of locally based oversight which includes all the schools in their areas – including academies, free schools and maintained schools.

Our blueprint is not a list of demands on government. It is a proposal for a joint way forward in which government, the teaching profession and professional bodies like ASCL work side-by-side. It will not be easy. It demands that school and college leaders take on even greater responsibility, and requires government to step back and trust the profession to do so. As well as school and college leaders, ASCL will have a role to play, and there are a number of actions we have committed to in the blueprint.

We hope that whichever government comes into power in May will be ready to do its bit too. It only takes an effort of will and imagination to put our education system on top of the world.

  • Brian Lightman is general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

Further information
Leading the Way: A blueprint for a self-improving system can be read at


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