The chief inspector of schools is due to publish his annual report on school inspection next week, giving a status report on England’s schools. This time last year, he painted a picture of an improving system, with increasing numbers of schools rated “good” and “outstanding”, and he has already signalled that there will be a similarly positive picture this year.
Every parent wants their child to go to a good school, or even an outstanding one. The million pound question is how to achieve this ambition – how to ensure that every school is a good school. I believe there are two absolutely critical components to this: high-quality leadership and high-quality teachers and teaching.
I hear from school leaders across the country that we have in recent years had the best generation of teachers in decades coming into our schools, but some are worried that changes to initial teacher training may jeopardise this. However, others believe that the responsibility for recruiting developing and retaining great teachers lies foremost with the schools, employers and the profession, not government.
Others have said that the teaching profession has been deskilled by years of government-imposed curriculum and approaches to assessment, that teachers and schools now need to seize the initiative for designing their own curricular models and constructing their own assessment schemes.
Perhaps there is some truth in this. The existence of various versions of the national curriculum of the last two decades or so means that we have a generation of teachers who have never had to design a curriculum from scratch. To prepare them for this challenge we need to create professional development pathways that help teachers to see themselves as expert practitioners who have the knowledge and confidence to try out new approaches and who are constantly striving to improve their classroom practice.
This requires teachers to work together, within and across schools, planning lessons together, observing each other’s practice, reviewing the evidence on effective interventions, and trialling and assessing with students the impact of teaching and learning innovations. By identifying leading practitioners and relieving them of some or all of their teaching duties, they can model practice, provide instruction to their peers and coach other colleagues.
Finally, we need effective, fair and rigorous teacher performance management so that teachers can be recognised and held to account.
All of this needs to be driven by ambitious, knowledgeable leadership. The most effective leaders do not necessarily work longer hours than their peers, but are more likely to spend their time with people: visiting classrooms, coaching teachers and leaders, talking with students and parents and involving and supporting their leadership team as they constantly develop strategies for further improvement and development.
The most effective schools also take responsibility for spotting and nurturing leadership potential from within, through charting clear leadership progression routes and providing early opportunities to practise leadership skills. I believe this is at the core of ensuring all our schools can become good schools.
You may or may not agree with this assessment, but regardless there are fundamental questions to consider. What needs to be done in order to develop, recruit and support the next generation of school leaders? How do we attract the most suitable graduates into teaching? How can teachers best be motivated to continue to improve their performance? What role does performance-related pay have?
These are some of the questions that we are posing in the second phase of our Great Education Debate, which looks at the quality of leadership and teaching. We need to hear from everyone who has a stake in the future of our education system.
Further informationContribute to the Great Education Debate at www.greateducationdebate.org.uk or on Twitter @GreatEdDebate
Ian Bauckham is president of the Association of School and College Leaders. Visit www.ascl.org.uk