Taking back control of our education system

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Regardless of the General Election result, it is up to the profession to take control and create a self-improving school system, says Brian Lightman

The wait is nearly over. Soon we will know the outcome of the General Election and the direction government policy will take during its next term of office. By the time you read this, you may very well already know. 

But how much does this matter to SecEd readers working in our schools and colleges, or to the young people in our classrooms? 

While it has been fascinating to watch the campaigns unfold and consider the implications of the policies of each of the parties, the fact of the matter is that our prime focus needs to be on the here and now in our schools.

For too long we have been far too reliant on solutions and initiatives presented to us from outside our profession, and it has not helped that these have too often been based on the latest political whim.

Our education system needs to be tied less to the changing priorities of governments and more to consistent leadership in which decisions and practice are based on the evidence of what actually works.

In fact, what we need is for the outcomes of General Elections to matter less. Only then will we be able as a country to take our education system to the next level. This is why ASCL’s Blueprint for a Self-improving System is so important. It sets out a different way forward, a new discourse in which we as a profession set out a vision which surpasses the level of ambition any government might have and press forward to make that a reality.

So what does that mean in practice? In simple terms it means this: we know that we have a good education system and we know that there is lots of good practice to celebrate; we know that there are always areas to improve and even the most outstanding schools can develop further; we also know that the one thing that has a greater impact than anything else on the progress our young people make is quality of teaching.

So my call to our profession is for all of the staff in every school and college in the country to sit down together and tease out what excellent teaching would look like in your school and what we collectively need to do as a profession to make that vision a reality. 

At the heart of this will be professional learning. That is not about sending one or two people on an expensive course somewhere only to return to the hurly burly of school and have no time to follow it up. My vision of professional learning is a much more collaborative exercise. It is about sitting down together as equals, sharing ideas and best practice, visiting each other’s classrooms to discuss what we do, and talking openly and frankly about the classes we find difficult.

It is about a culture which recognises that all teachers have good and bad lessons, because we are dealing with human beings. And when that dialogue has become embedded in the daily work of our school we can work in partnership with Teaching School Alliances and other institutions to plan programmes of professional learning which genuinely meet our needs.

Taking control of professional learning is one example of how the profession can step up and forge our own destiny. We have said consistently to all political parties that the time for externally imposed solutions has gone.

What we need from the incoming government is not more micromanagement but to trust us to get on with the job of leading improvement and to create the conditions which allow us to do so. Then politicians can step back – and take the credit for enabling our system to fly.

  • Brian Lightman is general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. Visit www.ascl.org.uk


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