Sensible change or brutal reform? It's our choice


Unless we reform ourselves sensibly, we will be reformed by others brutally. Russell Hobby looks back at the last year and ahead to September.

Could you be heading towards your last six-week summer holiday? Some people would like to make it so. Of course, this ignores the fact that you have never had a six-week summer holiday. Our recent survey of members revealed that the average school leader gets five weeks’ holiday a year; which is about normal for management roles.

Traditionally, summer is a time to recharge from a turbulent year and plan the next. Turbulence is certainly a fair description of the past year. We began with emerging signs of a crisis in GCSE English marking, which led to a landmark legal challenge. We have no reason to be confident that the crisis will not happen again.

Close on the heels of this we had the implementation of the new “requires improvement” Ofsted category. It is a worthy aspiration that every school should be a good school, but the short-term pressures are now driving a crisis in recruiting people to the most challenging schools.

We then entered the season of curriculum and exam reform. How many “re-sits” has the government had now on GCSEs? There may be a case for some reform of GCSEs, but radical changes to A levels feel like meddling for the sake of meddling.

The summer was dominated by the implementation of performance-related pay progression. We have been clear that the principle is right but the implementation is fraught. There are some useful freedoms, like temporary TLRs, and some very dangerous freedoms too. Navigating between the two is critical.

So what does next year hold? We should have the final draft of the national curriculum in our hands. This won’t mean much for many academies but the message for all schools, maintained or academy, is to seize curriculum freedom. Figure out what matters to you and your students. There is room beyond the core to make this work.

We should see different accountability measures emerging, which may minimise the cliff edge of the C/D borderline. This can only be a good thing. But there is no sign of a coherent approach on vocational education and training. More positively, however, there is a growing rapprochement between business and education, seeking to fill the gap on issues like careers advice.

There will be changes to leadership pay, from middle to senior roles, with hopefully a better approach to executive headship and a stronger recognition of the degree of challenge. I suspect the threats to holidays and working hours are more in the nature of negotiating gambits than anything else, but I could be wrong.

It is a picture of incessant churn. Not everything is bad, there is just too much of it. Some of the change is change for change’s sake and much of it is being forced through on a timetable which suits the election cycle more than it suits education.

Indeed it is hard to make sense of the welter of initiatives when viewed solely through an education lens. Subject knowledge is critical, for example, but soldiers don’t need a degree to become teachers. Seen through a political lens, it becomes much more comprehensible.

Therefore, 2013/14 needs to be a year in which the profession takes back ownership of reform to develop education policy for educational rather than political purposes. And let’s be totally frank here, unless we reform ourselves sensibly, we will be reformed by others brutally. 

If we want to see a better inspection system then we must inspect ourselves. If we want intelligent accountability we must hold ourselves to account for the right things. If we value collaboration, we must ourselves create it without prompting.

Direction and coherence will not emerge from the centre; they must be hammered out by the profession itself. And crucially, we should not wait for permission to begin this. Policy-makers cannot back off until the profession demonstrates that it has the will and the capacity to regulate itself. So let’s make sure that some of the high-profile initiatives and events next year originate from the frontline, not Whitehall.

  • Russell Hobby is general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. Visit


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