Tags: Headteacher | School Leadership & Management | Standards
Three heads share their views on what they believe are the highlights and lowlights of the recent white paper.
Shorter, sharper inspections welcome -Anne Clarke
Principal, Benton Park School Technology College
At first glance I am not particularly enamoured with the prospect of being a trust school. I am quite happy belonging to the LEA with a governing body. I also have my doubt about the validity of the parent councils. I am certainly aware that parents are major stakeholders in the school, and that their views are of paramount importance. However, my experience has led me to believe that parents’ main interest, as it should be, is the education of their own particular child or children rather than the overall running of the school.
We have great difficulty maintaining a parent teacher association, although the small number of parents involved are an invaluable resource to the school. We have also had a vacancy on the governing body for a parent governor for over two years now, which we are unable to fill. I think that if I had to rely on a parent council to guide the school I would be in great difficulty.
On a positive note, I think we are already getting used to the ‘New Relationship with Schools’. The new Ofsted framework is already under way and I would welcome shorter, sharper inspections. I am also very happy with working with a school improvement partner. As a headteacher I welcome challenge and feel that it is an important part of the SIP’s work to interrogate the judgements that the school is making on its work.
I also feel that we have accepted personalised learning. It seems to make very good sense to lend extra support to pupils who are falling behind in English and maths. I am also in favour of the move to encourage schools to support pupils facing particular challenges, such as special needs. The key stage 3 strategy has made a very favourable impact upon teaching and learning, so I am happy to read that KS3 will continue to be prioritised. It is important to keep pupils on track at KS3 if we wish them to be motivated and committed to their education as they move into KS4 and make their choices for continued study.
I am sure that any head would support the moves to strengthen discipline within schools. I do not mean we should return to any draconian measures, but that we need systems in place which are understood by both staff and pupils to ensure that there is order within school to ensure positive learning. We all know that good learning cannot take place unless there is good classroom management.
I am happy to read that there is an emphasis on parents taking responsibility for their children’s behaviour in school. If we are to improve the behaviour of those pupils who disrupt our schools, then we do need to work closely with the parents. Parents cannot abrogate responsibility for their own children. I am also pleased to see that there should be some full-time provision for permanently excluded pupils. We know that this does not always happen and that those who are permanently excluded from school often end up on the streets and become lost to education for good.
However, I am concerned about autonomous schools with an open admission system. It could lead to a system whereby schools are competing for the better students in order to maintain or improve their position in the league tables, with less able students finding it difficult to access their local schools. This was always the fear with grant maintained status – that schools coming out of LEA control would introduce an admission system based upon selection. Is this what we are returning to?
Parent agenda misses the point
-Brian Rossiter, headteacher, Valley School, Worksop, Notts
It is unfortunate that the arguments concerning the new category of trust schools mask some positive elements in the white paper. The paper takes forward some of the key recommendations of the excellent Steer group on behaviour by introducing a clear and unambiguous legal right for teachers to discipline pupils, extending parenting orders and expecting parents to take responsibility for their children. The development of school transport allows some of the most disadvantaged students to attend schools where currently they have difficulty.
The ‘Parent Agenda’ of the current secretary of state, while valid, misses the point that the vast majority of secondary schools meet her requirements today without the need for primary legislation. We already focus on the achievement of every child within our schools, as well as the achievement of the school as a whole, yet we are being told that these changes will make us do so even more.
There is a ‘but’ in all this. Trust schools and the apparent sidelining of LEAs is a retrograde step that mirrors the disastrous and divisive schemes of the 1980s. There is much talk of ‘choice, diversity and fair access’ but the reality will be different. The equity we seek will be replaced by schools expanding to deliver the aspirations of the peripatetic pupils’ parents – mostly from the middle classes. Alternatively, new schools formed by sectional interests will come into existence to serve those who meet the criteria set by those sectional groups. And those students who have no voice will remain together within shrinking and increasingly pressured schools.
As a supporter and recipient of excellent services from a proactive LEA, I believe their diminution is a travesty. Their role in ensuring a fair, and yes equitable, admissions process is not to be given up easily. The move to that of commissioner of services as part of a wider children’s services organisation is a positive move yet the piecemeal approach to them appears most bizarre. With a diminished role, would the LEA have the commitment to follow through on the most crucial investment in infrastructure, ie delivering the Building Schools for the Future programme?
People are going to want to know what the overall strategy is. And where is the detailed vision that shows how all the elements of the jigsaw fit together? This white paper misses the opportunity to unite us all behind a common and unambiguous cause.
Too much structural change
That every child in our schools has the right to expect an education that meets their needs and challenges them to perform as highly as possible is beyond debate. That some students in some schools do not have this right adequately met is also beyond debate. The extent and depth of the problem varies between schools. Does the white paper give promise of higher standards and better schools for all?
Some of the elements of the white paper will certainly help schools to meet the challenge. The proposals on discipline, the greater emphasis on individualising learning and the improvement of engagement with parents and students around learning are to be welcomed. There is, however, too much emphasis on structural change. What is worse the proposals on admissions will continue to mean that the articulate, the motivated, the strong and the determined will often, but not always get their way. Inevitably, many others will not and there will always be some who will not feel the need to try. For all the eulogising of working in partnership, some schools, in an open market, will compete, will try to steal a march on their rivals and will not see value in working together for common ends in their community. There is a need to be clear about how partnerships will be sustained.
The white paper will set up false expectations among parents. It sounds wonderful, but misses the point. Schools need a respite from hectic structural change so that they can focus rigorously on what happens in classrooms.
Trevor Bailey, headteacher, Worle Community School, Weston-super-Mare
This article first appeared in Secondary Headship – Dec 2005
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