Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT writes about his thoughts and passions and the work of the National Association of Head Teachers.
A challenging autumn ahead: but we’re prepared for whatever the new year brings for schools
I write this column from the departure lounge of George Best Airport, returning from a visit with our Belfast colleagues. They have a busy year ahead. Autumn will see the culmination of their long-running campaign to secure leadership time for nursery principals, while also dealing with school closures, an on-again off-again merger of their education authorities, a hostile inspection regime (sound familiar?) and a frankly baffling 0-6 strategy. As is so often the case in Early Years, parents want high-quality education delivered by qualified professionals but the Government favours playgroups and childcare because they are cheaper. A poor long-term investment, given the weight of evidence for the power of early intervention to narrow gaps later in life.
NAHT NI will also be debating the issue of selection and the 11-plus. It is a contentious topic, but it is good to see us taking a role in the major debates.
Northern Ireland brings home starkly the effect of society on education, as they deal with the challenges of integration. It also shows the effect of education on society, as it is schools that have been leading the way in bringing communities together.
Returning to England, the change in tone is noticeable. Northern Ireland may have its challenges, but they seem to be able to manage without undermining the profession. Amid the universal goodwill of the Olympics, for example, the only profession the Prime Minister felt able to denigrate was teaching. This despite athlete after athlete crediting the inspiration of a teacher as the start of their journey to success. Increasingly it feels that, in contrast to their stated wish to strengthen the authority of schools and teachers, this Government is, in fact, licensing disrespect. The tone is set from the top.
There are very few policies that could not have been reframed to engage and interest the profession. In the long term, this is what makes the difference between success and failure. The Government cannot mandate what happens in each individual classroom.
This is nowhere more true than with the National Curriculum. This will be interpreted and shaped by each individual teacher. My advice to members is figure out what matters to you and teach it anyway.
The main threat to that is Ofsted. There is a real risk that we will be swapping a DfE-mandated curriculum for an Ofsted-mandated one. I don’t believe that Ofsted HQ actually wants this, but the gap between the centre and the inspection teams is huge.
This autumn, NAHT will be taking another major step in the task of taking back ownership of our profession. As discussed at our annual conference, we will launch our own approach to school improvement, with a pilot of 30 schools in clusters working together to help make the shift from satisfactory to good.
This is seen as a radical move for a trade union, but it shouldn’t be. As every single one of us wants to raise standards, what better way to realise our ambitions? I think it strengthens our ability to act as a critic of the Government. It can be seen that we are not making excuses: when we say something is wrong, it’s because it is.