Take stock, rebuild bridges and tackle workload, Nicky Morgan told

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Returning secretary of state Nicky Morgan urged to take stock, rebuild bridges with profession & tackle workload. Pete Henshaw reports

Returning education secretary Nicky Morgan has been urged to “pause and take stock” as the Department for Education (DfE)opens for business once again after the General Election.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, urged Ms Morgan to focus on winning back the support of the profession and to allow time for government reforms from the previous Parliament to be implemented.

The last five years has seen a number of educational reforms, including an overhaul of the national curriculum, sweeping changes to GCSEs and A levels, the removal of national curriculum levels, and the academies and free schools programme.

The government also found itself in dispute with teaching unions after cuts and changes to pensions and the introduction of performance-related pay. Most recently it was Ms Morgan’s response to the DfE’s own Workload Challenge survey that angered the profession. Around 44,000 teachers responded to the survey, but the secretary of state’s response was seen by some as lacking tangible solutions.

Mr Hobby said the direction of policy was now clearer after the election result, but added: “The first task of the secretary of state for education this time will be unusual: to pause, take stock and continue building bridges with the profession. The fundamental lesson of the last five years is that rushed or forced change falls far short of its ambition. With serious challenges in pupil places, funding and teacher recruitment, there are plenty of problems that policy-makers and the profession will need to solve together. Further, lasting progress on standards depends on it.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was looking forward to “constructive dialogue” with Ms Morgan. He said: “It is time for a new discourse to develop throughout our profession which is characterised by a can-do culture driven by positive, proactive leadership in all parts of the system.

“In the constructive dialogue with the secretary of state, we will be proposing how we can work with government to create the conditions for us collectively to achieve that ambitious and compelling vision for the future.”

Alison Rogers, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, also said that time was now essential to help the examination and qualification reforms to bed in.

She said: “Assessment and qualifications are a vital aspect of our education system, but what they need now is a period of stability to allow previous reforms to embed and to enable pupils and teachers to prepare adequately.”

Meanwhile, in an open letter to Ms Morgan, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, warned that the “crisis in teacher recruitment” was the biggest challenge ahead for the returning secretary of state.

She wrote: “Unfortunately, teachers are leaving the profession in droves, at a time when more children are entering the school system. As secretary of state, you will need to quickly get a grip on the training routes for teachers, as well as working towards making teaching a profession that people want to join.”

Dr Bousted calls for a review of the School Direct training scheme, introduced under the last government, and for a halt to the decline in university-based teacher training courses.

The letter also urges Ms Morgan to “revisit” the findings of the Workload Challenge. It warns that one of the key causes of workload is the “ever-more punitive inspection system”, which Dr Bousted says must be addressed.

Chris Holmwood, principal of the Leadership and Training Centre at Shenley Brook End School in Milton Keynes, and a SecEd editorial board member, echoed the call for a period of stability. 

He said: “It is surely the time to work with and not against the profession. Give us the College of Teaching and ensure it has the space to be an advocacy and not a bureaucracy.

“Actively listen to the increasingly unified voice and vision of the profession – as articulated through the ASCL Blueprint for a Self-improving System and the SSAT Vision 2040 document – and my challenge would be to give the profession time to properly embed the changes which are all-engulfing – and with the pace of delivery required could blight the quality of provision, experience and outcomes of this next generation of children.”

Funding is also a key issue for Mr Holmwood: “It’s unbelievable that the debate about public services during this election has had no focus on the ticking timebomb of school funding. The requirement for schools to fund National Insurance and pension contributions going forward is crippling.”

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