Social Mobility | A View from the foothills By Marc Rowland

Grammar Schools are the mountebank of social mobility. But we will have no impact if we leap into an entrenched position and stay there. Placard waving rallies make people feel good, but they rarely change policy. We need to be in the uncomfortable chair of decision making, rather than wrapped in the cosy duvet of vocal opposition.

If grammars do have any positive impact on social mobility, that impact will be most welcome. More disadvantaged pupils attending Cambridge is undoubtedly a good thing, but it will do little to tackle the deep-rooted issues our society faces. A genuine plan for social mobility needs to be bold, politically savvy, values driven and evidence based.

So I propose the following priorities:

Tackling the language gap we see in our disadvantaged pupils at risk of underachievement. This gives virtually every other education policy a better chance of success. The language gap and the evidence for it can be described below.

‘The landmark Hart and Risley study in 1995 identified “remarkable differences” in the early vocabulary experiences of young children. Researcher and author Betty Hart described the results of their observations: “Simply in words heard, the average child on welfare was having half as much experience per hour (616 words per hour) as the average working-class child (1,251 words per hour) and less than one-third that of the average child in a professional family (2,153 words per hour)” (Hart & Risley 2003, 8). This is important because vocabulary development during the preschool years is related to later reading skills and school success in general.’

In all my experience, school-led solutions are best placed to help tackle this issue. Reading hubs, where schools are responsible for working with children and their families to make a better start to early reading.. The hubs should work with families in the summer term prior to year R. Schools would be expected to reach a fixed proportion of disadvantaged and vulnerable children as part of the hubs.

Maximising the Impact of Early Years.

Kathy Sylva’s EPPSE 3-16 project shows that 2-3 years of high quality pre-school impacts on outcomes at least to 16, particularly for disadvantaged learners.

A quick glance online shows that Early Years professionals, who need to be educated to degree level, can expect to be paid between £22,000 and £33,000 (about the same as a bus driver). A well-known recruitment website lists the requirements for an Early Years professional as follows:

  • excellent communication skills;
  • good listening skills;
  • the capacity to learn quickly;
  • excellent organisational skills;
  • the ability to inspire and enthuse young children;
  • energy, resourcefulness, responsibility, patience and a caring nature;
  • an understanding of the needs and feelings of children;
  • ability to work independently, as well as being able to work in a team;
  • a sense of humour and the ability to keep things in perspective.

I’d argue that subject knowledge, a fundamental understanding of research and how to apply it are the gaping omissions here, along with the highest ambitions for all, regardless of background or barrier to learning.

Better opportunities for young people with learning difficulties

6% of adults aged 16-64 with learning difficulties are in paid employment. Of those surveyed, 65% want to work. The Social Mobility challenge is at its most glaring where the people concerned are the least likely to be heard.

 

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Maximising the Curriculum.

In too many cases, the Key Stage 3 curriculum remains a rather desolate place. A few weeks back, I was told about pupils with excellent reading outcomes at KS2 going into year seven and been given a recommended reading list with Jacqueline Wilson and Roald Dahl. These suggestions sadly lack challenge and imagination.

A chasm in the DfE’s business plan is the lack of a challenging, high esteem technical education pathway. This should have literacy and numeracy at its heart which doesn’t narrow opportunity. We should learn from other countries about how we could do better. It remains an afterthought.

Oracy as standard  

If it were measurable, I suspect that one of the greatest achievement gaps we see in our schools is oracy and articulacy. Peter Hyman’s work at School21 is an exemplar of how we can improve the life chances and life choices of disadvantaged and vulnerable learners.

Good oracy, coupled with cultural literacy should be at the heart of the social mobility agenda.

The Power of Multi Academy Trusts.

We are only starting to see the potential with Multi Academy Trusts. With support, I believe we will see some diverse and innovative models evolving that produce excellent, long term outcomes for pupils of all backgrounds.

One of the true drivers for genuine, sustainable collaboration is shared accountability. Through MATs, we can create an education system which enables the very best teachers and expert support staff to work with the most disadvantaged pupils.

The quality of teaching has a significantly disproportionate effect on disadvantaged pupils. Pupils in the poorest communities are more likely to be taught by unqualified or inexperienced teachers. They are more likely to experience high teacher turnover. They are more likely to be taught by a teacher without a degree in the subject they teach. High quality teachers are more likely to move out of the most disadvantaged communities.

In some communities, such as rural North Yorkshire and Northumberland, Local Authorities need to be empowered to support this agenda too.

The Pupil Premium.

This has also been a very powerful vehicle for improving outcomes for disadvantaged students.

We should further improve the use and impact of the funding by ensuring schools have the highest of expectations, high quality teaching and cultural literacy. The policy itself should not change. The expectations of its impact should continue. Better designations data would help inform the use of funding. Good GCSE results only open a door for disadvantaged pupils. They need to have the expectations of themselves to step through it.

The Progress Problem.

Progress is one reasonable accountability measure for schools. But for individual pupils it is attainment that matters. ‘Expected Progress’ has been one of the most limiting factors for disadvantaged Pupils. As George Mallory said: ‘We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.’

Aiming for the bare minimum means missed opportunity and wasted talent.

Leading the way.

I have yet to hear any argument for additional grammar schools that stands up to scrutiny.

But we need to be proactive too. If we let it, this gloomy green paper could become the Gavrilo Princip of a new and completely unnecessary education divide. The School-led system should be at the forefront of the alternative.

Marc Rowland, September 2016

*Pseudonym used

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Vacuum at the top? by Dr Bernard Trafford

I fear that, whenever anyone sees my name at the top of a blog nowadays, they’ll assume I’m about to embark on a rant about the latest government initiative or policy. To be fair, I do it a lot.

But here I want to raise a slightly philosophical question about school leadership and, more specifically, headship: not about its nature, but about what happens when it becomes remote. The question concerns me, because we all too easily become so entangled in discussing structures and rationalisations that we risk overlooking an intensely human aspect of leadership.

The current government thrust is towards creating Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs). A powerful driver behind the Academies programme was successive governments’ suspicion of Local Authorities: many ministers found them unresponsive to Westminster’s agenda for school improvement:  hence the move to so-called independent academies (not a description I like, since I run a private – genuinely independent – school).

Successive governments have quickly realised that single stand-alone academies can find themselves isolated and that schools tend to fare better when collaborating. Moreover, they were also swift to appreciate that academy chains – in effect, MATs – bring with them not only mutual support but economies of scale: administrative functions can be centralised, both streamlining the staffing and arguably giving them more muscle in keenly-priced procurement.

Critics of the growth of MATs might suggest wryly that they now resemble Local Authorities, but without the democratic accountability. Simultaneously the enormous salaries commanded by top executives in some large academy chains, whether they are called chief executives or executive principals, have attracted media opprobrium.

The economies of scale are undeniable. With an executive principal at the top (however highly paid), there’s no obvious need to pay heads’ salaries to those running the individual institutions: they receive support from the centre, and don’t carry the ultimate burden.

Many functions related to improvement, quality assurance, even recruitment and marketing that might have been taken by deputy heads are now handled at the centre, so Senior Leadership Teams in each academy can be slimmer – and thus cheaper.

I’m not questioning the logic of all this. But, as I said at the start, it leaves me with a philosophical dilemma about the nature of headship.

It’s always seemed to me that parents must have access to the head, the final arbiter, the person who has the last say (pace the Governing Body) and sets the tone in the school. In practice, I can’t claim that, in my fairly large independent school (1300 pupils), parents beat a path to my door. If they did, I couldn’t cope: but they can (and do) get to me almost immediately if they need to.

Moreover, in (you might say) the traditional style of education’s private sector, they know the head’s there, not out running a couple more schools. They like to see the head in the old-fashioned way – at the school gate, taking assembly, just being around. The head is supposed to articulate the vision of the school, to walk the talk: it’s a rare independent head who runs more than a single institution or site.

Parents relish that visible leader-figure. They know the head cannot possibly know the name of every child, nor personally guide his or her development, protecting each individual from whatever storms that may come. Nonetheless they enjoy a sense of reassurance: not promised by the school, certainly – but, well, assumed.

I’m not seeking to denigrate the excellent work done by heads in MATs where there is an executive principal above them. But in my traditional world, parents and students like to know where the buck stops: I wonder how the lack of clarity in multi-institution structures really sits with those vital constituencies.

Accountants won’t justify the expense of a highly-paid head in each constituent unit of a MAT. Yet as a model it has worked for a long time: Tony Blair insisted he could judge how good a school was just from meeting the head.

I’m not having a go at MATs: nor at those highly effective professionals running individual academies; nor at their bosses, the executive principals. But if my kids were starting school again, I suspect I’d want to know that the head really ran the school, and to be able to see him/her in their office if I needed to.

Education ministers in the Blair government used to talk about sectors of society that were “hard to reach”. Though we might easily picture who they had in mind, I loved the riposte from someone speaking for the dispossessed: “It’s not us who are hard to reach: it’s the b*ggers at the top!”

Whatever the prevailing structures and systems, schools are essentially neighbourhood institutions, located within and serving a community. They are all about people, reaching out to, and working with them.

If the real power in the school/academy is elsewhere – at the MAT’s offices, with the executive principal directing at arm’s-length and making periodic, if regular, visits – I wonder how the institution can claim really to operate on a human scale, to be immediately approachable, truly at the service of parents and children.

I’m sure some MATs manage it. I doubt whether all do. I fear that the question is rarely, if ever, asked.

Yet humanity must, surely, always come before efficiency. Or it should do.

Dr Bernard Trafford is headmaster of the Newcastle upon Tyne Royal Grammar School, a NET Leading Thinker and a former Chairman of HMC.

@bernardtrafford

What’s in your schema for SEN? By Jarlath O’Brien

I’m currently enjoying ‘Mindware’ by the American psychologist Richard Nisbett and it’s making me think very hard about thinking, inference and reasoning amongst other things.

Early on in the book there’s an arresting section on the schema concept. Nisbett describes the term schema as referring ‘to cognitive frameworks, templates or rule systems that we apply to the world to make sense of it’. We have them for all sorts of things: “basketball” (indoors, five-a-side, holding the ball in your hands) and “football” (outdoors, eleven-a-side, kicking the ball with your foot), for example, or “packed lunch” (sandwiches, fruit, crisps) and “school dinners” (hot meal, meat, vegetables).

Object schemas are used routinely in many special schools to help students with significant learning difficulties understand and prepare for what is coming next. A pair of goggles might signify that swimming is coming up, or a piece of Numicon will be used to indicate that the next session will be maths. You can see how object schemas are used to positively influence the behaviour of children for whom a regular timetable or verbal instruction in isolation is inaccessible. The child is more likely to understand what is happening next and is therefore more likely to be settled and comfortable as opposed to anxious and worried.

Schemas affect our judgement and how we behave and help us to select the appropriate behaviours for different locations and events such as visits to the dentist, job interviews or queuing in the supermarket.

Nisbett explains this influence is also true of our use of stereotypes – schemas about particular types of people and this set me thinking about learning difficulties and the people who have learning difficulties. Schemas are clearly working away in the subconscious, amongst a lot of other things as I am learning from Nisbett, and have developed and evolved throughout the courses of our lives.

What schemas do you have for the following words?

ADHD

Down syndrome

Autism

Pupil premium

Looked-after

Bottom set

SEN

Are the schemas that we have for these words negative in nature? Do they subconsciously suggest lower expectations for any children we teach who happen to be described using some of these terms? I’ll give you a word that’s specific to me.

Fitzgerald

I’m forced to admit that this word immediately brings forth some negative thoughts and words. I wish it weren’t so, but they’re there. I have to consciously put them away and refocus. The word does this because I worked with a number of children from the Fitzgerald family* when I first became a teacher in a comprehensive who all had some behavioural difficulties. Getting my class lists one late July for the next year, my eyes rested on another Fitzgerald. Within a fraction of a second I had judged this child without ever meeting them. Later on I was to learn a salutary lesson as it turned out that this particular Fitzgerald did not experience any behavioural difficulties, nor were they actually a member of that family at all (although that should have been irrelevant). I learnt the lesson, but my subconscious still drags up thoughts that, unchallenged, would unacceptably see me prejudge a child before meeting them.

Nisbett describes an experiment carried out by psychologists at Princeton University[1] in which students made stereotypical judgements about a child based on their judgement of her social class. The experiment contended that “[p]eople will expect and demand less of [working-class Hannah], and they will perceive her performance as being worse than if she were upper middle class”.

Reading that chapter a number of times and thinking deeply and honestly about the subconscious schemas that are operating in my head I am concerned that the adverse judgements made by the students in the Princeton study are more than likely to be replicated or, I fear, magnified, by society when they hear or see the words

ADHD

Down syndrome

Autism

Pupil premium

Looked-after

Bottom set

SEN

I fear this because I have seen first-hand how society in general (there I go with the broadest stereotype imaginable) has low expectations of people with Down syndrome. I see very little expectation that children with Down syndrome will go on to paid work or live independently. Why?

I am going to challenge you to confront your schemas and your stereotypes. Be brutally honest with yourself and dig deep to uncover what your subconscious mind is saying to you about those words in bold above and about the people you work with now, or have in the past, who have been described by those labels or others like them. It’s going to take some serious effort (I haven’t taught a Fitzgerald for eleven years) before each of us individually, and then society more broadly, replaces deficit schemas with ambitious schemas.

Jarlath O’Brien is Headteacher of Carwarden House Community School. His book ‘Don’t Send Him in Tomorrow’ is published by Independent Thinking Press.

 

* Fitzgerald is a pseudonym

[1] Darley and Gross, “A Hypothesis-Confirming Bias in Labelling Effects”

EdTech: Are we nearly there yet? By Chris Yapp

Bill Gates recently remarked that EdTech has underperformed. In his talk he makes it clear that he believes that the good times are ahead, as the needs of teachers and students are better understood by the technical and educational content communities.

Is he right?

It is now 35 years since Ken Baker introduced the “micros in schools” project. Have we made 35 years progress in 35 years? I would argue not, but I believe that it is timely to look back and learn the lessons of the many waves of technology.

From micros, CD-ROMS to the internet and WWW, to Electronic Whiteboards and Tablets we have plenty of evidence of points of innovation, interesting experiments and much contestable evidence of the impact of ICT in schools. So can we do better? What can we learn from the cumulative experience of the last 35 years?

First, not all ICTs are the same. It is important to distinguish sustaining technologies from disruptive ones.

A sustaining technology is one that helps you do what you already do. An electronic whiteboard can, in the hands of an experienced teacher, enhance whole class teaching. I have seen wonderful examples in the UK and abroad of teachers using that technology in ways that a traditional blackboard could not deliver. But have we trained teachers adequately and in an appropriate manner in ITT or CPD to develop their pedagogical skills to exploit the technology when appropriate? I think not.

A disruptive technology causes you to question both what you do and how you do it. For instance in the digital world, a school is no longer limited by the books in its school library. The vast resources on the Web challenge the role of the library. Students and teachers are now open to material of much greater variability in quality, of unknown provenance or veracity. How has curriculum changed to meet the need for our children to learn the skills they require as adults to navigate this challenge? Here I struggle to be optimistic.

Twenty years ago a number of UK schools were involved in using video-conferencing for modern foreign languages to help children develop their capabilities by communicating with children of their own age, which proved effective and motivational. In a more complex world, foreign languages are growing in importance, yet UK performance in modern languages has not improved.

Interestingly, technologies introduced as sustaining can become disruptive as practitioners develop their confidence. I have seen in a few countries teachers who have changed the layout of their classrooms, enhanced pupil engagement by letting them use the EWBs and used the interactive features in thoughtful ways that were relevant to the task in hand.

Technology cannot be justified in schools on pedagogical gains alone. We have labour saving technologies. We can automate a task and take work off the teacher to give them more time for planning and teaching. Take the automation of multiple choice questions. Instead of a teacher marking 30 sets of answers, the machine can provide the scores and enable the teacher to spend time looking at class-wide and individual issues. So why has the administrative burden risen not fallen at school level?

And in other sectors of society and the economy, as technologies become mainstream new roles emerge, new skills are needed. Some years ago I proposed that the biggest mistake in education was to believe:

“Old Teacher” + Computer = “New Teacher”.

(One interesting example I found on a trip to the Far East of novel practice was beautifully simple. While the standards in the school were high and impressive, there were concerns that the spoken and written English tended to stay in an oriental mind-set. All homework was electronically submitted, much of it in English. Instead of sending a geography or history project to the respective teacher, another copy was sent to an English assessor to comment and feedback on the use of English outside English lessons.)

****

Why do I disagree with Bill Gates?

I disclose that I used to work for Microsoft. So far much of the experimentation and activity with ICTs in schools has been within the constraints of a school by school model. If you look at the questions I have raised, I think there is one observation that leads to the underachievement that I agree with Bill Gates on. Many of the issues have to be tackled at a system level, not at a school level.

If we are to fulfil the hopes and aspirations of edtech and deliver education for our children we need to resolve the following. Here are my key challenges:

  1. How could we make ‘schools without walls’ a reality for all children and their teachers?
  2. How do we construct curriculum to build the necessary environment for the academic, vocational and cultural development of children, given the tools we now have?
  3. How do we develop the teaching profession to create an adaptable and highly motivated workforce that understands the potential (and limitations) of ICTs?
  4. How can technology link school to school, to community, to the workplace and other institutions, to enhance the experience of learners?
  5. How do we use ICTs to transform assessment, both formative and summative, to put learning at the core, not accountability?

At the heart of transforming education through ICTs there is a need for teaching and learning to be research and evidence led. Teachers as action researchers working collaboratively is what turns the necessary to the sufficient condition. We need to build a research culture which embraces the challenge of scaling up and diffusing innovation.

I am grateful to an old colleague who taught me at the start of my edtech journey that there is nothing new in this world, only those things that we have forgotten. I am an optimist by nature who believes that nothing is more important than an idea whose time has come.

Now seems like a good time.

Chris Yapp is a Leading Thinker for the National Education Trust

‘Respect’ can be addictive by Dr Nick Tate

Take a random glance at school mission and values statements and you will find the following words cropping up again and again: ‘respect’, ‘tolerance, ‘non-judgmentalism’. ‘Respect’ and ‘tolerance’ are the most common, especially since DfE’s 2014 SMSC guidance identified them as ‘British values’ to be promoted. But it is far from clear what these words mean and whether the way we are currently interpreting them is in pupils’ interests or those of society.

‘Respect’ and ‘tolerance’ are often linked together as if they were the same thing. They are not. Traditionally ‘tolerance’ meant accepting the right of others to opinions and behaviours of which one did not approve. It has been a cornerstone of liberal democracy. But until recently it has never meant ‘respecting’ or refusing to pass judgment on opinions and behaviours of which one disapproved, let alone feeling obliged to ‘celebrate’ them.

If one elides ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect’, and sends out the message that one should ‘respect’ and ‘celebrate’ opinions and behaviours of which one disapproves, instead of judging them, negative consequences are liable to ensue.

First, one is telling pupils what to think in areas where they should be exercising their own judgment. Faced with views and behaviours on which they have opinions, pupils are discouraged from formulating and exploring these in case another person or group might feel they are not being ‘respected or ‘celebrated’. This is both illiberal and limits opportunities for developing judgment and ‘discrimination’ (the making of distinctions), which is a key objective of education.

Second, it sends the message that other people’s opinions are not to be taken seriously. Just accepting them uncritically, in the name of ‘respect’ and ‘non-judgmentalism’, is failing to engage with them.

Third, it is sentimentalism to use language which encourages blanket ‘respect’ and ‘celebration’ in relation to individuals and groups. Pupils’ moral, emotional and intellectual development occurs in situations of challenge, not when they are immersed in a syrup of universal respect. It is also dangerous to brush under the carpet the fact that people disagree fundamentally about the kind of society they would like to live in. On many issues we neither ‘respect’ nor wish to ‘celebrate’ other people’s opinions and it is better to deal with this, in age-appropriate ways, frankly and without pretence.

Fourth, excessive attention to unqualified ‘respect’ and the celebration of identities can become an addiction, as the sociologist Frank Furedi has pointed out. It encourages a feeble view of the self. It may help to explain the worrying developments in universities we are currently seeing, both in the UK and the USA, where students, used to being cossetted and flattered in school, are refusing to read upsetting books, banning speakers who might ‘offend’ them, and demanding the creation of ‘safe spaces’. Where unqualified ‘respect’ extends to whole groups and cultures, it can also undermine personal autonomy. Pupils are individuals, not representatives of groups from which in some cases they may even wish to escape.

This is not to suggest that we abandon ‘respect’. Pupils need to learn to ‘respect’ other people’s rights. They need to argue their own case using ‘respectful’ language. They need to listen ‘respectfully’ to what everyone else has to say, even when they disagree. How one manages these kinds of discussions will of course vary hugely from one age group to another, and from school to school.

Above all, however, we need to get back to the idea of ‘tolerance’, with its ‘respect’ for the right to differ (even on things like ‘British values’), its connotation of open debate, and its robust and positive assumptions about human nature.

Dr Nick Tate is the author of What is Education For? (2015) and a NET Leading Thinker.

Beyond Gifted by Deborah Eyre

It’s educationally reassuring to think that some people are born gifted and some are not. We just find the ones who are and ensure that they have the right educational opportunities. Simple. That’s what we thought when I started working in this field 35 years ago. But as the 20th century wore on it became increasingly apparent that spotting those people in childhood is unreliable and difficult.

Conceptions of what it means to be cognitively gifted continued to fragment rather than converge so making assessment difficult. At the same time, across the world gifted cohorts were found – regardless of the assessment processes used – to be stubbornly biased against the disadvantaged. People tried, but the result was always the same. Statistically speaking, gifted cohorts in schools and in enrichment programmes are dominated by more advantaged students. Gifted education is often therefore criticised as advantaging the already advantaged.

Equally challenging is the accumulating evidence to show that perhaps people are not born gifted or not gifted, but that they can become gifted. The brain is more malleable than we thought.

But in order to develop the requisite skills individuals definitely need regular and frequent access to advanced learning opportunities. So if you are lucky enough to get into the gifted cohort you might receive the necessary diet, but if you do not make the cut then your chances of success are significantly reduced because access to advanced learning opportunities will be cut off.

One could say that the creation of gifted cohorts causes schools to structurally lower expectations for the majority of students and hence make high performance for them well neigh impossible. Likewise for those fortunate enough to make the cohort their chances of eventual success are hugely enhanced. Unless they have associated mental health issues they are likely to steam ahead and do very well.

So where does this leave us? Is everyone gifted? Probably not, but it’s almost certain that in percentage terms far more students than we previously thought can become gifted. They are capable of reaching the same high levels of performance previously only attainable to those in the gifted cohort. The message is clear:

  1. We have to find ways to make advanced learning routinely and freely available in schools and open-access enrichment programmes, and to help more and more people build their intelligence. We have to create the gifted not find them.
  1. It is only by recalibrating the education system in this way that we stand a chance of breaking the cycle between socio-economic disadvantage and low educational attainment.
  1. Giftedness, if there is such a thing, should be a term used to describe performance at a high level not a certain type of person. It’s an attainable target, not an inherited superiority.

This is what the evidence tells us. If we want a successful well-balanced society we need to move on and drop the previous practices in favour of a new agenda that methodically builds human capital and systematically rewards mental agility, empathy and hard work.

Professor Deborah Eyre is a NET Leading Thinker and author of High Performance Learning: How to become a world class school.

High Performance Learning is an organisation that helps schools move from good to world class by focusing on pedagogy and helping students develop the higher order competencies they need for academic, workplace and lifetime success. www.highperformancelearning.co.uk

‘New Year 2016’ by Geoff Barton

I can’t claim actually to have known former Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Yes, I sat in the audience at some conferences he spoke at. I was on the side-lines at a couple of meetings and a dinner where I glimpsed first-hand his well-known mix of the witty and the unctuous. And he once stepped out of a lift in the unglamorous basement of a west London hotel, pointed at me, and said ‘It’s Geoff Barton, isn’t it?’. Then he turned and walked away.

None of this amounts to knowing Michael Gove.

But when his departure from the Department of Education was announced, back in July 2014, I decided to send him one of my custom CD mixes as an understated farewell gift. As visitors to our school know, I occasionally inflict a compilation of uplifting and sad songs, plus cheesy ‘Geoffy B’ jingles, as part of a desperate throw-back to my childhood ambition to be Radio One’s next breakfast DJ.

Whether my small musical gesture of goodwill ever reached the departing Secretary of State, I have no idea. But the CD wasn’t returned in the post and hasn’t surfaced on eBay.

So, no, I didn’t know Michael Gove. But I did know what he stood for. I knew what his ambitions for schools were. We all did. However strenuously we disagreed with many of the approaches and policies he unleashed, we couldn’t avoid being aware of his overarching belief that education liberates, and that the education world needed to intensify its ambition to liberate those whose backgrounds, family finances or postcode would serve as a limiter on a child’s aspirations.

Now, with the aftermath of the Gove project smouldering gently behind us, we stand gazing out at another year: 2016. And it already looks as if we’re in for one of unprecedented of change in education – just as we were last year and the year before.

We brace ourselves for seismic changes to qualifications at pretty much every level. KS2 tests will be different. GCSEs will be different. A/S and A-levels will be different.

Some of the big beasts of the current educational jungle are due to leave the forest – Glenys Stacey leaves her role overseeing the exams regulator, Ofqual. Sir Michael Wilshaw will step down from Ofsted later in the year.

Meanwhile a new national Schools Commissioner, in the shape of the well respected Sir David Carter, takes up post at a time when there’s a government determination to see every school an academy or free school.

That’s just some of the stuff going on beyond the school gates – the ritualistic machinations beloved of policy nerds and the Twitterati. In reality, most of it will hardly impinge on most of us most of the time. We’ve quite enough to be getting on with in our own schools and classrooms – some of it extra work provoked by the relentless thrashing-about by a government that too often confuses change with improvement; and some of it simply the ever-intensifying workload felt by all who work in an education system which is being flogged to its limits.

Which brings us to our current Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, the person who oversees that system.

I have never met Ms Morgan. But, in contrast with Mr Gove, I have no idea what she stands for. Apart from occasional exhortations on building character (a good thing, we gather) or teaching children that our roots are as a Christian nation (pretty unarguable), I’m not sure what we could ascribe to our Education Secretary as a defining philosophy, vision, or non-negotiable point of principle.

Sure – there’s a new Education Act in the offing. This may provide something of a route-map. But so far it’s sounding as if the only actual ambition is to make a reality of the Prime Minister’s determination to see every school in England an academy.

And in my book that’s hardly a vision. Instead it’s a lot of structural tinkering built on a decidedly unproven assumption that academies are by definition better than the kind of schools which in most countries would be seen as the norm – local community schools.

So if academisation really is the big idea, no wonder we feel deflated. It misses the point that what matters most in education is, quite simply, the quality of teaching and learning.

And, as the Scripture tells us, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’.

Which is why I’m determined to keep ignoring all those who think my job is anything to do with academy conversion, takeovers of other schools, business plans and boards of directors. It’s all a huge distraction from the important stuff.

I’m convinced that my role is simply to create a culture where we can recruit more great teachers, help them develop, make sure they can learn from each other, and leave them in peace to do their best to build the skills and knowledge of the next generation of young people.

For that, we owe it to our teachers to enable them to focus on the classroom whilst as school leaders we protect them from the swirling madness of external initiatives and political wacky wheezes.

So a key part of our role in the coming year, I’d suggest, is maintaining the confidence to do what matters most in our schools, for our students, for our communities, and not to let ourselves be distracted by anything that isn’t going to help a teacher in our school to teach better or a student to learn more effectively.

How compellingly simple, principled and unarguable is that?

Let’s make 2016 the year of great teaching.

Geoff Barton is Headteacher of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds, and a NET Leading Thinker.