‘Why challenging high performers is important and what we can do’ By Deborah Eyre

Providing challenge for top performers in the classroom is one of the most difficult and long standing problems in British education. Whilst some schools do really well, they remain the minority.

When it comes to gifted/more able your school is likely to be in one of the following categories:

  • Don’t believe in it and hence make no special provision as a result
  • Have a cohort of students identified as gifted or more able – or a similar term – and offer them special opportunities
  • Systematically and purposefully make advanced learning opportunities available in class and in enrichment, and offer them regularly to all or most students.

Generally most schools in England are in the first or second categories, whilst most of the top performing countries in the OECD league tables are in the third. Interesting!

We know that it is important to society, to the economy and to the individual that we challenge those who find learning easy rather than allow them to underachieve, and mark time whilst others catch up. Yet – we don’t do it because (a) we don’t think it is a priority or (b) we don’t really know how to. Systematically reviewing the literature in 2009[1] it became clear that these are universal problems and found in many countries.

So if we want to do better we have to change how we approach this.

Traditionally, work on the more able/gifted has involved identifying a cohort and making special provision for it, but the research shows this is increasingly problematic.

  • Definitions of giftedness have fragmented over time and vary widely, so when you try to identify students to create a cohort it’s hard to know what you are identifying and hence no reliable identification methods have emerged.
  • Those who are identified are given access to special opportunities and generally benefit. Those who are not in the identified cohort do equally well if given the same opportunities. So why are they not getting them?
  • Gifted cohorts across the world have been found to be biased in favour of the affluent middle class. No matter how hard people try this remains the case. Just like in England.

So if opportunities are the important factor, then creating them is the priority. What do good advanced learning opportunities look like? How can we make them widely available? Key players in this field alongside my own writings are Jo Renzulli, Bruce Shore, Joyce Van Tassel Baska and Albert Zeigler. Look out for their work.

Many teachers use Bloom’s taxonomy yet this is over 50 years old. Fresh approaches have bettered and superseded it. My new organisation High Performance Learning[2] (www.highperformancelearning.co.uk) makes use of these. It focuses on advanced learning and systematically building intelligence using 30 research derived competencies that all successful people demonstrate. These relate to developing cognition and also developing the values, attitudes and attributes that top performers need.

If your school wants to do better, then ask yourself these questions:

  • Are we confident about what advanced learning looks like?
  • Do we offer it in our school?
  • How regularly and to whom?
  • Could we improve the frequency with which we offer this or even make it part of our DNA?

Recently Sir Michael Wishaw painted a familiar picture of underachievement for the most able in secondary schools – especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. He is getting bullish in his final months as HMCI – suggesting sanctions be applied to schools that consistently fail their brightest children.

Maybe now is the time to focus more directly on advanced learning in your classroom and your school and stop leaving the creation of advanced performers to chance.

Professor Deborah Eyre is Founder, High Performance Learning, and a NET Leading Thinker

[1] Eyre, D. (Ed.) (2009) Major Themes in Gifted Education (4 Volumes). Routledge: London

[2] Eyre, D. (2016) High Performance Learning: How To Become A World Class School. Routledge: London

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THE COLLEGE OF TEACHING: a defining moment for the teaching profession? By Derek Bell

On the afternoon of the 25th May I watched as HRH Prince Philip took the original 1846 Royal Charter setting up the College of Preceptors (with its 1998 supplement) from The President of The College of Teachers and handed it to the first Chair of the Chartered College of Teaching.

You may consider this to be a trivial piece of ceremony of relatively little consequence. Yet in its own way it could be a defining moment in the history of the teaching profession in England and, perhaps, beyond. Four years ago the Education Select Committee recommended establishing “a new, member-driven College of Teaching, along the lines of the Royal Colleges and Chartered Institutions in other professions.”

Since then several groups of people, including many classroom teachers and heads, have worked extremely hard in order to lay the foundations for such a body – the completion of which was formally and publically acknowledged in that moment. Although there are still some technicalities to be completed, this was the point at which the new Chartered College of Teaching emerged as a body in its own right.

Whilst no one, least of all the new board of Trustees, underestimates the challenges ahead, that moment of transfer also acted as a reminder of how deep rooted the foundations of the new Chartered College of Teaching actually are. Not only does the Royal Charter recognise 170 years of history it also embodies values and aspirations of, and for, the teaching profession which are still relevant today.

Although the language of the document may seem strange, key phrases refer to; promoting sound learning”, “advancing the interests of education” and “affording facilities to the Teacher for the acquiring of a sound knowledge of his [/her] Profession”. I would suggest that these fundamental ideas remain at the heart of the teaching profession today. Bearing in mind that in 1846 there was little or no provision for training teachers, the vision of those individuals who came together to found the College was crucial and in many ways underpinned the setting up of teacher education (both initial training and continuing professional development) which exists today.

There is much to thank the original College for but unfortunately over the years it has become overwhelmed by wider developments, not least the increasingly onerous involvement of Government in the day to day activities of teachers and their schools.

Thus that moment on 25th May 2016, is also a challenge and opportunity for teachers everywhere to reshape their profession so that it is fit for the 21st Century. The new Chartered College of Teaching, under its revised Royal Charter, has the potential to lead this development towards increasing and genuine professional autonomy for teaching and teachers.

It can’t be emphasised too strongly that this will take time but progress is being made. Visit http://www.claimyourcollege.org/the-colleges-history/ for a full account of developments so far.

Confirmation of seed-funding of £5 million, staged over 5 years, in the government white paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, meant that it was possible for the Trustees to push ahead with a range of key activities including the appointment of the first Chief Executive which has just been advertised. They have also been working on details of membership and the activities the college will undertake over the next few years. Underpinning all college activities is the key principle that developments should be based on evidence and reflect the views of teachers.

Initiatives such as The Big Staff Meeting, held at the beginning of 2016 will continue to be used to inform the work of the college both nationally and regionally. In the autumn, the new Chartered College of Teaching website will replace the current http://www.claimyourcollege.org/ and events will be held including The Big Summit designed to provide a forum for mobilising knowledge and sharing evidence-based practice.

Perhaps more importantly this autumn will see the publication of a manifesto setting out plans for the new College in more detail. Currently (June 2016) details are under discussion but there are three major themes, among others, I would hope to see included in some form.

  • An emphasis on the real strengths of existing teachers and their practice, highlighting not just examples of excellent practice but the quality and commitment of the everyday practice demonstrated by the majority of teachers, headteachers and teaching assistants across the country. Gaining wider recognition for existing good practice would provide a sound basis on which to raise the status of the teaching profession.
  • The importance of building a genuine professional community which, over time, establishes its autonomy and independence becoming a leading body on matters of teaching and learning. In particular, it is important that this community is fully inclusive not only with regard to gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or background, but also to the many individuals who may have left the classroom in order to make valuable contributions to teaching, learning and education in different capacities. Clearly the majority of members of the college will and should be classroom teachers but the new College needs to retain the support, goodwill and contributions of this wider group of individuals – it cannot have too many advocates.
  • The need for high quality professional education, both initial training and career long CPD. The mark of a profession is that it is self-improving both as a body and as individuals within that body. The new College must have things to say and do with regard to training and development, influencing (and ultimately controlling) aspects such as standards, content, duration and expectations. Initial training must be a requirement and there should be an entitlement to ongoing CPD.

 

To this needs to be added the responsibility of ensuring appropriate opportunities are available and that they are taken up. If used effectively the introduction of an integrated Chartered Teacher scheme will provide the necessary recognition for all teachers who are well trained, keep up to date and, as a true professional, continue to improve and share their practice throughout their career.

Setting up the new College will not of itself bring about a transformation of the teaching profession or education more widely. However, it can provide a vehicle which can over time bring about change. Ultimately in order to meet aspirations it requires the contributions and support of teachers where ever they work.

Change will not happen overnight but a start has been made.

Perhaps, at this early stage of the new College’s development, as teachers and others involved in education, we should (with apologies to John F Kennedy) be asking not what our College can do for me but asking what can I do for our College – and through it the quality of teaching and learning for all our young people.

Professor Derek Bell, having worked in schools and universities as a teacher and researcher, was formerly Head of Education at the Wellcome Trust, and was Chief Executive of the Association for Science Education for seven years. He has carried out a wide range of consultancies in the UK and overseas and been a member of advisory/expert panels. He is Director of Learnus, a research associate at UCL Institute of Education and a NET Leading Thinker.

‘Misery loves company, particularly when she is herself the hostess, and can give generously of her stores to others.’ By Helena Mills

I know that I have been miserable recently and as a result I have probably made others feel miserable too. This year I have had the pleasure of spending a great deal of time with passionate, capable and very talented colleagues, but sadly I have often slipped into talking about how tough it is being a headteacher.

It has felt that too many of us are anxious and reeling against the ropes. Even some of the more experienced colleagues I have met have said this is the most challenging time that they have known in education. We are all facing the same challenges: shrinking budgets; recruitment difficulties; some changes that are a little bit too quick even for those of us who love pace!

I know that I am not alone in spending a disproportionate amount of time on the negative aspects in our current education system.

I am a firm believer however that one should endeavour to accentuate the positive as a part of my modus operandi. Having a bit of time to reflect over the half-term I realised that I have failed to acknowledge all the fantastic opportunities our system affords us. In challenging times people really do pull together, and this year I have witnessed at first hand several examples of this collaborative approach.

School leaders seeking comfort and solace with their peers are actually becoming more collaborative than they have ever been. Fears that the free market approach may lead to a fragmented education system, with competitors working in isolation, is not my experience of education at the moment. Indeed I find the opposite to be the case.

If I look close to home, our trust, with the co-operative principle of solidarity coursing through our veins, is a prime example of a collective approach to the task of educating our students. I have never seen such sharing of resources, successes and remedies for the mounting challenges. Headteachers are falling over themselves to give up their time even though three of our primaries are in direct competition for places.

This spirit of collaboration and sharing of ideas does not only manifest itself within our little group. We are benefiting from working with a range of experts from within our community, Essex. I am working with two inspirational leaders trying to establish an executive educator programme for people within our region to ensure we have leadership capacity for the future. Essex Local Authority has become involved in our school improvement programme with the very talented and experienced primary commissioner offering advice about how we can ensure our Year 4 and 5 teams are meeting the expectations of the new curriculum.

Looking more widely, our trust has been strengthened greatly this year as a result of the support from an excellent colleague and his team in Swindon, which has been crucial to developing our operational systems. This assistance has enabled the education experts to get on with doing what they know best: teaching and the curriculum. Further, we have worked with a multi-academy trust with expertise in special educational needs about how we could share joint facilities during our free school bid. Collaboration amongst school leaders is an absolute gift.

Leaders need to be brave, we know that. We also need to be optimistic not just for the children we serve but also the young professionals we are developing.

Read the Secret Teacher’s article on moaning that was featured in ‘The Guardian’ this April or Peter Hyman’s article ‘The Courage of Our Convictions’ as a reminder that we need to keep focused on the important things. Yes, it is difficult leading with shrinking budgets. Having just come to the end of a painful restructuring process, I know the impact that this has on individuals and on schools but we will achieve nothing without brave optimistic leadership.

So I have decided that June is going to be great. We have some really interesting developments, including the appointment of a new curriculum and assessment director who is going to help us plan an inspiring curriculum, relevant to our pupils in Harlow.

We have a team of inspiring teachers in English and history working with Martin Robinson, author of Trivium, to transform our approach, developing children who will be academically successful and more. We are looking at transforming feedback. ‘Minimal marking and maximum feedback,’ as our new curriculum director suggests, has to be the way forward.

Misery is going to find herself all alone from now on.

Helena Mills is CEO of BMAT, an academy co-operative trust in Essex, and is a NET Leading Thinker.

Affordable leadership for a small secondary school by Melanie Saunders

Does size matter?

Having spent some time looking at how a small secondary school can afford to deliver a curriculum which is both compliant and engaging in the current trying financial conditions, the thing that becomes most apparent isn’t the cost of staffing the curriculum. It’s the cost of leading it.

There is a reluctance to break away from the usual pattern of subject leaders and pastoral structures which has been deployed in secondary schools of all sizes for a generation, and despite the pressure this places on the budget of a small school.

Does a 600 place secondary school really need to retain the lines of accountability and leadership structures of a 1,500 place secondary school, or might it learn from the far slimmer structure of similar sized primary schools? Secondary schools typically spend around a third of their staffing budget on leadership at all levels. Primary schools about half of that.

To take one example: the lowest funded four-form entry secondary school in Hampshire receives an annual budget of £2,895,000. On the basis that 75% of this is spent on staffing, the staffing budget would amount to £2,171.250. Zero based budgeting suggests that a compliant curriculum with limited options for 600 pupils can be delivered for little more than half this amount. This draws into question the proportion of staff spend that is devoted to activities other than teaching.

The leadership model for a secondary school has remained largely unchanged since the establishment of comprehensive schools in the 1960s, although even this model was fundamentally taken from the way in which public schools were run. This design requires a headmaster/headmistress who appoints deputies to whom responsibilities can be devolved. Schools then establish their preferred pastoral system led by house or year heads, and a series of academic subject leaders.

Even if this remained the most sensible model for a school today of 1,500 students, is it sustainable, or desirable, for a school a third of that size? Since the core responsibility of a school is to ensure the highest quality learning and teaching, this raises four questions for a headteacher to consider:

  • How much leadership do my teachers need?
  • What sort of leadership will improve pupil outcomes?
  • What, exactly, are middle leaders leading?
  • What leadership structure represents best value for money?

 

How is headteacher time spent?

The National Standards of Excellence for Headteachers describe the role of headship in 144 words:

Headteachers occupy an influential position in society and shape the teaching profession. They are the lead professionals and significant role models within the communities they serve. The values and ambitions of headteachers determine the achievements of schools. They are accountable for the education of current and future generations of children. Their leadership has a decisive impact on the quality of teaching and pupils’ achievements in the nation’s classrooms. Headteachers lead by example the professional conduct and practice of teachers in a way that minimises unnecessary workload and leaves room for high quality continuous professional development for staff. They secure a climate for the exemplary behaviour of pupils. They set standards and expectations for high academic standards within and beyond their own schools, recognising differences and respecting cultural diversity within contemporary Britain. Headteachers, together with those responsible for governance, are the guardians of the nation’s schools. (January 2015)

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-standards-of-excellence-for-headteachers

The leadership of headteachers is demonstrably the defining factor in school success, notably because he/she determines the priorities and the focus for all the teaching and non-teaching staff in the school, and ensures that the outcomes achieved by pupils is the thing of paramount importance. Clearly, based upon the description above, the headteacher is going to need help in translating that vision into reality and ensuring that practice is consistent. Does this, however, require a team of heads of department and a team of pastoral heads?

In December 2012 the National College for School Leadership published ‘Review of the School Leadership Landscape’ which concluded that the three top concerns for school leaders were:

  • Finance
  • Ofsted
  • Pupil outcomes

However, the same review concluded that the three top skills school leaders said they needed were:

  • Strategies for closing attainment gaps
  • Leading curriculum change
  • Modelling excellence in leading teaching and learning

https://www.ioe.ac.uk/Review_of_School_Leadership_landscape_2012_Dec.pdf

There is a mismatch here which suggests that school leaders need to spend more of their time doing the things they know make the biggest difference, and less time on the things they worry most about.

If headteachers dealt with their number one worry by employing the expertise they need to manage financial planning in the form of a Business Manager, either of their own or across their MAT, they would be able to focus on their number one priority: closing attainment gaps. This might prompt a different approach to leadership and one which has the potential to address their second biggest worry: Ofsted success.

Although some approaches to pedagogy are demonstrably better suited for some types of learning, leadership of learning and modelling the best teaching is not, on the whole, subject specific – as is demonstrated by the approach to learning taken in large, successful primary schools. Good teachers respond flexibly to the needs of their learners and apply a variety of approaches and methodologies. Schools might want to review the role and impact of subject heads and consider whether the administrative aspects of this role could be carried out more comprehensively and less expensively than by paying a leadership premium.

The aspects of the role concerned with teacher performance and pupil progress are the stuff of leadership, but many subject areas in small schools have only one team member, and some are only managing themselves. Should the powerhouse of middle leadership reside in a large number of small fiefdoms, or in two or three senior teaching and learning leads informed by subject specific knowledge from leading teachers in classrooms?

Pastoral leadership often focusses on the management of behaviour and school leaders recognise that poor behaviour is frequently generated by poor teaching and inadequate learning. Less variation and inconsistency between subject expectations and the quality of teaching has the potential to improve behaviour and make intervention less frequent, thus reducing the need for several pastoral leads.

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Is it possible, therefore, to consider that the approach to leadership, particularly in a small school, might move:

From a model which provides a clear hierarchy but ties up significant resource in middle leadership, where middle leaders in singleton departments with no staff responsibilities have little influence on the quality of teaching and learning across the school and limited access to subject debate or the sharing of pedagogical practice. A model where tackling inconsistency and mission creep is an on-going struggle.

To a model where the headteacher and his/her deputies focus all staff on the quality of pedagogy through the work of two or three highly skilled teaching and learning leads, thereby ensuring that teaching, learning and assessment inform good behaviour and progress for all students and groups of students. A model where leading teachers advise on and promulgate subject specific pedagogy but the whole school is responsible for consistent and pupil-focussed practice.

What sort of leadership can your school afford?

Melanie Saunders was recently Head of Education Strategy for Hampshire County Council and is now an independent consultant.

It’s the last drop that makes the glass overflow by Rob Stokoe

It’s an interesting fact that in today’s educational world we think we must appear busy. We feel that we must fill the time we have. Are we too busy or are we victims of accidental priorities?

This constantly busy paradigm continually draws us away from those things we care for the most, our passions, our classrooms, even learning itself. This busy culture can leave us feeling exacerbated, tired, often overwhelmed, dealing with the moment rather than the strategic well-being of ourselves and our schools.

We have a problem, and the curious thing is we not only know about it, we are actually celebrating it. But let’s be honest: the act of being busy is simply overvalued. We need to understand what we are busy about, and remind ourselves that life should never be too busy for the things that matter most to us.

What happened to a world in which we had time to sit with the people we work with and for, and have deliberate, fulfilling conversations about the state of learning in our schools, the well-being of staff and that of every student? When was the last time you had a conversation that slowly unfolded, allowing for and embracing, comfortable silences, time to smile and reflect? When do we take the time to speak from our hearts, to access and to develop our emotional intelligence and that of others?

For over half a century a series of technological innovations have promised to make our lives easier, freeing up greater amounts of leisure time, yet the outcome we face is one where we have more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just…. be? We have filled in the gaps. The lines between work and home have become blurred.

We’ve forgotten that being busy was never the goal. We are not on this earth to be busy, we are here to build relationships, experience life, go places, create things, help others to learn and grow. Our reasons for being are different, but I have a feeling that none of us considers that we are here simply to be busy.

These are potentially destructive habits and they can start early. Do we have to drive our students so much that we over-schedule them? Do we offer too many options, measuring progress lesson by lesson, sometimes within lessons, after school activities, too much homework, causing them to stress and to be busy, just as we are? This is not what a creative and meaningful childhood is about. Each of us is a human being, not just a human doing.

So….

  • Take a couple of hours to identify the things you really want to accomplish over the next half term. Reflect on your action plans, acknowledge your progress and plan the next step – and add in dates to reflect upon these new activities.
  • Rather than answer emails first thing, take a walk around your school. Discover the great things that are happening there, take time to think, to engage with your staff and students.
  • Take a risk: turn away from technology, turn it off for set periods during the day. Instead of running back-to-back meetings, put space in your calendar to get important work done, writing things up or even time to take lunch.
  • Create boundaries of time which allow your brain to come up for air.

If we’re going to create a more sustainable work environment, let’s start by talking about how to work smarter, to live in a way that leaves us refreshed, less stressed, strong and able to maintain a strong focus upon what really matters. Don’t let the glass overflow; the contents are too valuable.

Rob Stokoe OBE works internationally as a Headteacher and is a NET Leading Thinker

‘A personal reading of Gandhi – and thoughts for school leaders’ by Kavita Anand

Twenty-five years ago in a workshop exercise on prejudice, I matched de-contextualised ‘statements’ to names of famous persons including Martin Luther King, Mandela, Gandhi, Mussolini and Hitler. On hindsight it’s not surprising, that I found that what I ascribed to the ‘father of our nation’ was actually said by Mussolini, and what I was sure must have been said by Hitler was actually said by Gandhi.

Since that epiphany, all historical figures became, to my mind, ordinary people who did extraordinary things. All of them had been ‘good’ for some people and ‘bad’ for others. All of them had acted with seemingly unshakeable conviction that they were right, even when and if racked by doubt or fear. All of them had persuaded others and won followers. They were all leaders. I could learn from each one of them. From some, I could learn how to act in a way that I could be the change; from others, how to be careful that I did not delude myself.

Of them all, Gandhi has seemed to me the most frail in his human-ness – perhaps because he opened himself to scrutiny as he reflected publicly on his own thoughts, actions and influence. Was that a narcissistic or generous act? Is any self-disclosure devoid of being both? His writings provide a window into the mind of a human being in difficult circumstances who discovered he had the power to do extraordinary things simply because he was willing to fail.

Gandhi had the courage to do what others did not do. He did have a sort of moral right to say ‘be the change you want to see’. His approach was strategic, having studied the ‘enemy’ at close quarters. He knew how to fight on an intellectual battlefield and how to show up the colonial mindset in a miserable light in its home-country. He could think of out of the box Dandi marches, fasts and slogans that fired the imagination of the people. He stated his values upfront and lived them equally dramatically. Cleaning toilets, wearing a dhoti, spinning the charkha – all proclaimed his disdain for convention, tradition and his trade. It was remarkably independent thinking. It gave a ring of authenticity to his need for self-rule.

This is the man who then put together his framework for education called Nai Talim or comprehensive basic education. He conceptualised a self-sustaining school in which students learned a craft that contributed to the school’s economic freedom. This in turn became the curriculum through which they would learn accountability to the community, nurturing each other and the environment as socially useful problem solvers. Their learning was to be driven by what they themselves identified as their own needs.

Ironically this seems to be where the schools of the future appear to be going. Today knowledge is free – freer certainly than any country. In the years leading to the 21st century, the world wide web heralded a quantum change in the way knowledge and learning were to be perceived. Children of the 21st century are known as digital natives. 560 years after the printing press made the publication of textbooks possible for school children to suffer, the internet threatens to set them free of both school and teacher.

The question though is: free to learn what? Those of us who live in highly populated zones on this planet are well aware of the communities to which we belong. For some caste is a community, for others it is family and for a few it is an organisation to which they feel the sense of belonging. The school was conceptualised as the heart of a community since it was an incubator of the community’s future. According to Gandhi, a self-realised commune or village would be one that valued self-sufficiency.

If every village were able to look after its basic needs and no one went hungry or unclothed, Gandhi’s vision of ‘ram rajya’ or a just and ideal world, could be realised. Equity was to be available at village level – not just in a school. Work was not caste based in this view of egalitarian India. How could it be? As a victim of ‘brown skin’ discrimination Gandhi was all for a world in which merit, ability and talent were promoted irrespective of colour or background, including for ‘white skins’, many of whom were part of his intimate circle of friends and compatriots.

Fair trade, frugal living, and the simple pleasures of community life sound an impossibility in today’s complex city-centred economies. The difference in Gandhian thought is that it processed current issues and then found solutions in individual and collective action. In schools today across India, we see evidence of Gandhian thinking during a school review, when the hierarchy between the school’s leaders and the lowest paid workers does not interfere with them sitting together at the same table to celebrate strengths and discuss the challenges faced by the school. Given our DNA of hierarchy, it is new for a school leader to do, and most difficult for the worker.

Enabling students to travel across India is another great leveller. Gandhi’s insistence on living in villages to experience first hand the difficulties of the ‘common person’ is a perfect example of people who ‘find out for themselves’. India has legends of leaders who mingled incognito in market places and discovered for themselves the difficulties of the people they wished to lead. School leaders have ample opportunity when faced with thinking that is hierarchical or communal, in the staff and parents, to influence them to think in an egalitarian or humane way.

The expectation from school leadership is immense – to understand the vision of the Indian constitution and then to create the environment in schools that enables this vision to be seen, felt, smelt and touched. I see many people who brave the discouragement of families and friends, take their chances and tread the less familiar path. As in Gandhi’s case, sometimes it is the right thing at the right time and sometimes not. It would be interesting to imagine the history of India without his larger than life personality that looms over all of us and reminds us how anything is possible.

Kavita Anand is Executive Director of Adhyayan, a social enterprise growing an education movement of Indian and international educators, dedicated to improving the quality of leadership and learning in schools to achieve the universal vision of ‘a good school for every student’. Kavita is based in Mumbai and was recently awarded the international Ashoka Fellowship.

‘The hurricane of school reform: unintended consequences’ by Melanie Saunders

I remember as a young English teacher in 1988 catching the whiff of anxiety and hope carried by the Education Reform Act and the introduction of Local Management of Schools (LMS). As it turned out, what felt like a caressing breeze was the storm-edge of the hurricane of school structural reform which has been whipping across the secondary landscape ever since.

In the early 90s I had the good fortune to find myself, whilst still young and full of hope, the deputy headteacher in an outstanding Essex secondary school led by one of those mythical figures – the Hero Headteacher.

My hero was on a mission to make his school both wealthy and successful. He certainly modelled those entrepreneurial and innovative approaches to leadership and governance espoused in the new national standards. Our school was one of the first through the Grant Maintained gateway and eagerly embraced Technology College Status so that by the end of 1994 we were able to interview prospective pupils to assess their technological aptitude, obviously having first whittled down the numbers through an NFER test.

These were halcyon days in shire counties: no interference from the local authority, or indeed from anyone else except for Ofsted every few years. Specialist School Status blossomed and by 2008 90% of secondary schools declared themselves to be specialising in one of ten different specialisms. We had become adept at setting targets, analysing data, using chances graphs and making predictions, not to mention bid-writing, securing sponsorship and promoting our school vision.

And standards did rise – or at least we were now comparing things with other things rather than just doing our own thing behind the classroom door!

Obviously some folk got upset, if, for example their children couldn’t get into their local school or they didn’t like the supposed specialism of that local school. Or perhaps because the new entrance foyer to their old secondary school didn’t seem to have helped much with behaviour, and they began to suspect that teaching their bog-standard child wasn’t number one on the school action plan.

Things did unravel a bit in 1998 with the introduction of a few more types of school: foundation schools emerged, alongside the existing voluntary aided and voluntary controlled schools (still keeping specialist schools), but luckily these became Trust schools, which cleared everything up.

Although a few academies had emerged from the Learning and Skills Act in 2000, matters really took off when the coalition government decided that the most important thing they needed to do for a country in crisis was to introduce some new types of school. These new converter academies and free schools helped to avoid secondary heads wasting time thinking and kept those enemies of promise, the local authority, too busy fast-tracking school conversions to go round championing children.

In his Annual report in 2013/14, Sir Michael Wilshaw (HMCI) pointed out that, ‘Primary schools in England are getting better but improvement in secondary schools has stalled.’ In 2014/15 he followed with, ‘Thousands of children leave primary school each year with a competency in reading, writing and mathematics that will set them up confidently for secondary school. It is a terrible waste that so many are subsequently failed by their local secondary school and their progress stalls after the age of 11.’

So, we secondary folk ask in indignation: what the hell have primary schools been getting up to over the last 20 years whilst their secondary colleagues were engaged with local battles over GM status; writing their specialist bids and securing the necessary sponsorship; setting up their foundations and trusts (and negotiating the necessary catering and cleaning contracts); taking over the lease of their land and buildings; establishing another type of legal governance; and, of course, having their school name boards changed….again?

Well, when I meet with primary headteachers, all they want to talk about is pedagogy and how their children learn, which is what I guess secondary headteachers wish they had the time to talk about. I can’t remember many conversations with primary schools about governance arrangements, leases, contracts or their status. And it looks to me as if they’ve, rather sneakily, been focussing on improving teaching, learning and assessment for a number of years whilst their secondary colleagues had their backs turned.

Still, perhaps now we’ve come up with multi-academy trusts (MATs) for primary schools we’ll at last be able to tear their attention away from the things that actually matter.

Melanie Saunders is County Manager for Educational Improvement – Hampshire County Council.