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Please listen to people who know

10 June 2016

The Government needs to consult educational professionals as it plots its policy trajectory, says Andy Mellor

Blackpool Gazette

Expert eye: Andy Mellor and children from his school, St Nicholas' in Blackpool

Expert eye: Andy Mellor and children from his school, St Nicholas' in Blackpool

WHO would take issue with the title of the White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere? Certainly not head teachers. As usual, however, much depends on the definition of excellence. In essence, this is a mixed bag, with aspects of compulsion not inconsistent with Stalinism. This is bizarre for a Conservative government that prides itself on offering choice and an openness to market forces.

Should all schools become acad­emies? If governing bodies and their school communities feel that this step is right for them, I would defend their right to take it. The Government has quite rightly said that head teachers need to be given the autonomy to run their schools as they see fit.

But it has promptly removed that freedom to choose, despite the appar­­ent U-turn from the Secretary of State. Politicians telling head teachers what is right for their schools — forced conversion — does not fit the narrative of auto­nomy.

THE move to curtail the part played by local authorities (LAs), removing their school-improvement brief, is contentious.

Much depends on each LA: some have sophisticated and well-respected school-improvement teams; others less so. To neuter all LAs this way suggests a one-size-fits-all approach, an assumption that all LAs are incapable of pro­viding quality support and chal­lenge.

The best LA school-improvement services will flourish if schools are allowed to make their own choices. A blend of high-quality LAs, teaching-school al­­liances, and multi-academy trusts, given direction by a school-impro­ve­ment steering group, as is planned in Blackpool, delivers the advant­ages of all these systems.

The proposals for stronger, more capable governing bodies are welcome. Denying parent bodies an opportunity to contribute to the governance of schools, however, is a huge step backwards. Schools need parents involved. The parent gov­ernors at my school make a huge contribution, and are passionate about the education their children receive. Let’s keep the energy and drive of those who have the greatest reason to see their children’s schools succeed.

THE white Paper’s focus on re­­cruitment and training is welcome. This is especially so where head teachers have direct control of the quality of trainees entering the profession.

But, if the Government addresses the symptoms of the teacher short­age rather than the cause, schools will continue to lose high-quality staff, and it will cost the taxpayer more to replace them.

The efforts to attract good head teachers to work in challenging schools are encouraging, but fail to address why recruitment of this kind is such a problem. Why should a head teacher in a good school move to one that is challenged by social issues beyond the head’s control?

We also need to think about future head teachers, which is why the Leadership Foundation, an independent and profession-led body for the development of out­standing school leaders, is so im­­portant. It is an example of where the profession, rather than politicians, leads the way.

THE assessment system between the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 3 is broken. The Government needs to accept that. Attempts to fix parts of it have failed or been reversed. New parts have been created to fit a system that no longer resembles the original.

Once we had a Reception base­line, which was supposed to fit with the end of Key Stage 2 to provide a progress measure, and then we didn’t. Priority was given to attain­ment, then to progress. Year 6 children sat their tests this summer with no clear idea about how schools were going to be compared.

Even the tests were compromised. "Disorder", the first word in the spelling test, said it all. Let the profession have a thorough review of assessment to look at what works. Those of us inside it, not politicians, know what is best for children.

Accountability measures should be suspended until changes have been embedded. To ask schools to teach and be accountable on the hoof will lead to mistakes. It’s akin to laying railway tracks after the train has started moving. Teachers and school heads are great at mak­ing things work, but to judge them under this sort of pressure is unfair, and compromised by the level of Government backtracking.

The fairer distribution of funding announced in the White Paper shouldn’t distract us from the fact that, although schools are receiving the same funding as last year, the increase in pension contributions, National Insurance, and general inflationary costs means cuts in services and, often, staffing. The Government’s assertion that school budgets are not being cut is actually translating itself into job-losses. At my school, we have built a team who have moved us to "outstanding", but we have had to let staff go.

Much of the Government’s education policy seems to be driven by its ideology and a "Give it a go" approach. The NAHT and head teachers across the country are keen to offer an expert eye; we can tell ministers what will and won’t work. If the Government is serious about educational excellence, it needs to include the profession in its delib­era­­tions and decision-making. We want excellence, too. And we can help the Government deliver it.


Andy Mellor is the head teacher at St Nicholas’ Church of England Primary School in Blackpool, and a member of the National Association of Head Teachers’ national executive

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