Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT writes about education policy, with a focus on how the profession can take back ownership of its own destiny
The debate on the Education Bill that we probably won’t have
“Mr Speaker, my honourable colleague has set out the government’s legislative plan for securing a world class education system. Can I say, though, that I doubt the power of legislation, and indeed of the actions of ministers, in effecting the change we need.
“We stand at the beginning of new era in education reform, yet we approach it with the same old tools. Who can blame us? They appear to have worked well in the past. They have allowed the government to claim many tangible achievements. I have seen the maps with their dots representing academies and free schools.
“Yet 2015 is not simply 2010 repeated. We are in a period of economic recovery. Many graduates who might have chosen teaching can find lucrative and challenging careers elsewhere. We are already seeing shortfalls in meeting allocations for STEM subjects. Finding a new head teacher seems near impossible in my constituency, with schools advertising multiple times.
“At the same time, the plans to eliminate the deficit demand further cuts in public spending. The education budget is frozen yet schools must deal with the effect of cuts elsewhere.
“The number of primary age children in my constituency is set to grow rapidly. We need several new schools to cope. Or we must grow our existing schools. We have a great new free school, but it provides only a fraction of the places we need.
“The challenges we face are challenges of capacity - places, teachers and leaders – in an era of constraint. I read of plans to increase free childcare, which I applaud but wonder about the logistics, and I read of plans to intervene faster and further in schools. This is the language and these are the tactics of 2010.
“We don’t have enough people stepping up to leadership as it is. Where are the replacement heads coming from? Where, even are these ‘national leaders of education’ to support them? There are eight regional schools commissioners overseeing roughly two and half thousand schools each; are we to rely on them to spot, assess and intervene across this volume?
“The headlines talk about sacking head teachers and an attack on ‘coasting schools’. No one has told me what a coasting school is. I don’t want schools in my constituency to coast but do you and I mean the same thing by that word? Half the heads I speak to think they are about to be sacked. Is such a climate of fear the way we will address the challenges of 2015? Did it even work in 2010? I seem to recall we lost a secretary of state because of the increasingly toxic relationship with the profession. You can blame the media for sensationalising the issue but surely we all know by now how our words will be picked up and used.
“I believe heads should be accountable and those that can’t move their schools forward should find other ways to contribute. I believe that decisions should be made at the school level, not in Whitehall. But it is time to add a third strand: capacity building. As we demand more and devolve more, we must invest more in people’s ability to rise to the challenge. Where do I find this sort of investment in the government’s vision for the next five years?”