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Russell Hobby

Russell Hobby

Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT blogs about his thoughts and passions and the work of the National Association of Head Teachers.

Let’s take control

Is there a better way to judge schools? Yes, and it needs to come from the profession 

As an association of leaders, it is our duty to propose credible alternatives and not merely to criticise. As I said during Conference, unless the profession takes ownership of standards, we will not only suffer, but deserve, political interference.

This is not always easy; it involves some difficult choices and sacrifices. Yet, if we want the freedom to develop our schools as we think proper, this is an essential strategy. It does not prevent hard criticism of flawed policy, but it does require thoughtful analysis rather than instinctive opposition.

This is why I am proud to see the NAHT launching creative initiatives. You will have heard of Aspire, our school improvement project taking 30 schools from requires improvement to good (see page 8 of Leadership Focus, June 2013). This is a truly innovative form of protection and also shows that every leader wants a good school.

Conference also adopted the Leadership Compact – a code of practice for employers matched by a set of expectations for school leaders. This will build constructive relationships based on mutually high standards. It is vital that, as well as asking for fair treatment, NAHT is seen to define expectations for leaders. I hope you will take the time to review the Compact: the vision for school leaders is ambitious and inspiring.

We have also announced our plans to demonstrate a profession-led peer-inspection model, cheekily titled ‘Instead’, to show there are alternatives to the current regime. I am a firm believer in inspection, but we need a far more constructive system. I don’t imagine this will replace Ofsted soon, but it is of value in its own right and builds a proof of concept.

These are just the higher-profile announcements. You will also hear about plans to get high-quality, practical research into the hands of practitioners and a scheme to get volunteers into schools to promote a love of reading. Some people question whether a trade union should be doing these things. My feeling is that these projects return us to the original heart of trade unionism, providing a form of protection fit for the 21st century.

However, the most critical area to develop a credible alternative is in the arena of targets and floor standards. We cannot – and do not – object to high standards, but if we don’t like the arbitrary increases and narrow focus of the current regime we have to come up with an alternative or we are vulnerable to
accusations levelled at us. So how about this...

What if the profession itself laid claim to an ambitious goal, one that trumps the Government’s own expectations so that it sets the bar for years to come? This would be a goal based on either progress or attainment. The critical factor is not the end figure or final goal, but the annual rate of improvement. I do not believe that anyone wants to stop improving their school, but they need a sustainable path, based on steady gains over the years. In return for this commitment, which should be entirely voluntary, the profession could ask for the space they need: while we’re on the path, back off.

We need a debate on this. There are many unanswered questions: what is a reasonable annual rate of improvement? What is a good level of progress or attainment? How do you capture the non-academic achievements in a school? How do you handle the variations in small cohorts, or SEND and mobility?

It is easy to dismiss this out of our remit but consider the alternative: constantly and unpredictably changing floor standards, harsh interventions, easy accusations and a deteriorating dialogue. Ambition and standards need to belong to the profession; respect and autonomy will follow. I invite you to share your views, please email me at generalsecretary@naht.org.uk

Russell Hobby is NAHT general secretary


17 June 2013