Having formed in a bit of a whirlwind, we’re in the process of establishing a pattern of working that means Headteachers’ Roundtable can sustain its campaigning activity into the future. So far, we have focused on the issue of qualifications. This has led us to develop a proposal for an inclusive Baccalaureate model as detailed here, ratified at the HTRT Conference in April hosted by Vic Goddard at Passmores Academy, Harlow. Further work is now being done in this area:
In June, HTRT will be working with Whole Education to turn our proposal into a version that could be adopted or trialled by schools now with existing qualifications. It’s a very exciting development. Details and invitations to sign up will be issued as soon as we’re ready. (Update: They are here)
Tom Sherrington, on behalf of HTRT, was invited to meet Stephen Twigg to share the principles behind our model and has also contributed to the Labour Skills Task Force report. So far, we’ve had an excellent response from Labour, including representatives on the FE Task Force from a range of sectors. A number of us also met with Chris Husbands, Director of the Institute of Education, who gave us advice about taking our ideas forward. We remain open to offers to talk to any other interested parties.
Also in June, Ros McMullen and other HTRT associates will be working with John Dunford – again from Whole Education – to draft a consultation process about accountability measures. We will be putting that out as soon as we can, inviting views and suggestions regarding OfSTED, performance measures and accountability in general.
Meanwhile, all HTRT members communicate regularly via monthly conference-calls; we have had a range of offers to talk at seminars and conferences and we’re getting our message and ideas out. We’re planning to hold a termly conference next academic year; nominally in October, March and June. These will be on a cost basis (nominally £10 each) and open to all-comers. Details will be issued as they emerge.
To give you a sense of the perspectives of members of the core HTRT group, here are some viewpoints written in the last week:
Ros McMullen, David Young Community Academy
David Young Community Academy is moving to a totally IB sixth form in September with the introduction of IBCC. This marks a critical stage in our development as we have built the sixth form from only 8 students back when we opened in 2006. During the last 7 years we have offered a variety of level 3 qualifications, including BTECs and A-levels, but introducing the IB Diploma 2 years ago has proved so popular with students and staff, and has seen such academic progress in turning our students into ‘proper students’ that we are now taking the leap!
Although our outputs are showing great improvements, I have to say the circumstances within which we work are worsening and we see more students and families experiencing extreme poverty. One of my key concerns is the removal of the school uniform grant in the next academic year. We are famous for how we feed the students with compulsory free breakfasts for all and fantastic non-portion controlled lunches for £1.80 (it is those who do not qualify for FSM who often need it the most) and I am very concerned that keeping this up, together with our high standard of uniform could erode pupil premium significantly. I am of the view that pupil premium should not be used for welfare, but for education, and I am concerned about the practicalities of this.
Engaging with the other Heads at Headteachers’ Roundtable has been of enormous benefit to DYCA during 2013 and expanded the number of schools and academies we see as professional partners. There are so many great ideas and initiatives we are now sharing that I cannot possibly list them all, but if the past year has taught me anything it has taught me to share with other Heads our responsibility to lead the system for all our children.
Chris McShane, Winton Community Academy
I believe that we are in an industrial revolution on an unprecedented scale and that old solutions cannot shape the world that our young people are entering. Within the next 10 years the students entering the academy are likely to see the next century and be at their most economically active in 2060 to 2070.
We have to learn from the past 20 years, exponential change is the constant of the future and it requires new thinking and new skills to succeed in this rapidly changing world. Subject knowledge was the DNA of teaching and learning in the 20th century we need to rewrite the DNA for the 21st.
The education of our youth is too important to leave to the whims of politicians and I believe as a profession we have to stand to be counted but standing on the right platform, that of our core and moral purpose to educate the citizens of tomorrow. I believe that the wealth of a nation is its youth and the measure of a nation is what we do to educate them.
I have signed up for the Heads’ Roundtable, not because I have all the answers, but because I am ready to stand and be counted. I would like a national debate on what we want our young people to learn and develop, to then create a curriculum, create an assessment framework, followed by a system of accountability. I would like to see government bring the profession to the fore in this process and for them to step back whilst retaining responsibility for how public money is spent.
John Tomsett, Huntington School
I am a member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable because I believe that the profession should be leading educational change, not politicians. I don’t purport to have all the answers to the challenges facing the education system in England, but 25 years of teaching in the state sector, ten of which as Headteacher, give me valuable wisdom and judgement when it comes to shaping the future. I am doing this work for future generations of students, including my own son; in 2017 when he is taking the news I-GCSEs and he says, “Dad what did you do to prevent the politicians from interfering in my education?” I will feel no shame.
(Read John’s blog here: http://johntomsett.wordpress.com/)
Tom Sherrington, King Edward VI Grammar School
I’m a member of various different associations including local clusters for school improvement and collaboration, ASCL, the SSAT and the Grammar School Heads’ Association. Each has their purpose. However, Headteachers’ Roundtable has given me the opportunity to look beyond my local or sector issues to the policy environment that we all operate in. It is something of a fluke that HTRT has gathered Heads from such a diverse set of schools; the conference attendees have also come from all sectors and phases. The interesting and powerful thing is that we have so much in common – in particular a sense that we want education policy to be driven by the profession. I became involved because of the HTRT’s proactive step to launch an alternative consultation shadowing the DFE’s appalling EBacc consultation. From this work we now have a template for a viable alternative that is finding resonance with school leaders and policy makers and we find ourselves in a position of influence. This is democracy; collective action is powerful.
My main concerns as a Head are to create the conditions that allow the staff in my school to focus on the main thing: teaching and learning. Continual misdirected tinkering with the qualifications framework, the over-bearing dominance of flawed performance and accountability measures and the imposition of PRP are among the policy issues I am keen to challenge; HTRT gives us a great forum to do that.
(Read Tom’s blog here: http://headguruteacher.com/)
Rob Campbell, Impington Village College
I became a teacher to make a difference for the better in the lives of young people. I became a Headteacher because I realised I could probably make an even stronger difference. After nearly ten years in the job, I have come to realise that too much of what we feel we have to do is because it has been decided by people who have too little contact, knowledge and understanding of education and schooling. The Headteachers’ Roundtable has brought together a group of like-minded souls who are loudly saying ‘Enough is enough’. Our curriculum should be a force that enables classrooms to come alive, not a tool to suppress. We should be held to good account, but not so that we make decisions because we fear the reaper. My school is an IB World School and we seek to adhere to its mission of ‘A better world through education’. I want to be part of the HTRT to try and create a better world by playing our part in developing a better education system rather than the one we are dangerously heading towards.
Dave Whitaker, Springwell Community School & Barnsley PRU
Exams bring pressure, pressure to teachers, support staff, parents and school leaders! However, the pressure they feel is nothing compared to that felt by the pupils. Thousands of pupils in thousands of schools are feeling this daily pressure as they revise, prepare and sit their exams carving out their futures and influencing their life chances. Not only do they influence their life chances, they build self-esteem, confidence and social standing. They create the ability to leave school with their heads held high, a spring in their step and a smile on their faces. In my school the pressure on the year 11 pupils is more than you could possibly imagine. Children with ADHD, ASD, ODD, OCD and Tourette’s all go through the daily pressure of the exam season. They have been supported, trained, coached, counselled, mentored and bribed. They will feel angry, frustrated, challenged, hopeless, inadequate and useless. They also feel cared for, supported, looked after, loved and immersed in unconditional positive regard.
So, what’s the problem? Nothing really at the moment! We have created a situation where the longest exam is just about manageable at one and a half hours. We have 14 pupils sitting exams in 11 different rooms. We have invigilators, scribes and readers. Over 20 staff supporting 14 pupils! We also provide breakfast and pre-exam therapy and mentoring. Teachers, working outside the conditions of their contracts, all invigilate exams as any strangers employed to invigilate would add additional stress to the pupils and they could not cope. In order to manage the logistics of the exams all the rest of the school, primary and secondary, have to collapse their timetables with all staff losing their PPA time. All this is done with no complaints, no unions, and no moaning just total commitment to the pupils and their futures.
Springwell’s pupils will gain their GCSEs. They will celebrate in August like the thousands of others pupils around the country with pride and smiles on their faces. They will be able to hold their heads up high and move on to positive destinations with increased self-esteem and a respect for their own achievement and potential. They will be proud of themselves and their peers and believe they have a genuine future. On that Thursday morning in August they become real young people. Not special school pupils hindered by prejudice and disability but real young adults with qualifications and worth. They have worked hard, against the odds to complete course-work, sit modular exams and build portfolios. They have culminated years of hard work by going through the rigour and stress of the exam period and come through it with pride.
So, what’s the problem? What happens when they don’t have course-work, they don’t do modular exams and their whole school careers and life chances rest on them sitting a 3 hour exam for each subject at the end of a three year course? I am sure you will appreciate that I am worried!
Vic Goddard, Passmores Academy
I became a teacher because I was taught by great teachers. I strive to live up to their investment in me every single day. I know that many of the other young men that I grew up with did not make the good choices that I did not because they are ‘bad’ people but they had poor guidance; be it from their parents, friends or other individuals in their life. This drives me. I want to make sure that it isn’t my young people rioting on the streets in the summer; by giving them an education that values each of their individual strengths and supports their challenges this is much less likely.
All I want is to be allowed to do this; all I want is for the government that serves our community to allow me to serve it too. I am not interested in who is in power as long as they do not make me choose between doing the right thing for my students or the right thing for my school. This must not continue to be the position I am put in.
It is time for a long term plan for education across all the sectors, one that isn’t subject to the changes an election bring or any individual trying to replicate their own much loved school experiences. It is time for an assessment package that encourages our young people to develop their strengths and tackle their weaknesses. It is time for a curriculum that is flexible enough to develop over the coming years in line with new technology and pedagogy.
I can’t claim to have many answers but I am surrounded, in my noble profession, by brilliant people that do. I can’t claim to be a huge intellect like many of the people that have been given the mandate by the electorate. I can’t claim much to be honest but what I can do is stand up for the young people I serve. I refuse to be quiet when I see the future of the young people, that I care so much for, being used to score points about who is toughest on ‘standards’.
I have been lucky to find like-minded people that are also willing to stand up and be counted; who’s next?
Jon Chaloner, Glyn School, Danetree Junior School & Cuddington Croft Primary
I went along to the meeting on 12 October simply because I saw a tweet before work one morning in September. If I had not seen that tweet, I would not have met the significant number of school leaders who shared HTRT’s concerns last autumn. The links forged from a national perspective help leaders in their local areas. I would encourage school leaders to attend our termly conferences so that they can meet the core group of HTRT and truly understand how our thoughts have evolved during 2013.
I am committed to HTRT as we are a broad ‘coalition’ of school leaders who have experience of leadership in a variety of settings. For long periods of time, leaders have met and shared ideas about school improvement. We are simply replicating this successful model but happen to be on a more national level simply due to the locations from which the HTRT core group are based. We know that technology has moved the educational world along in various forms and our meeting via ‘Twitter’ reflects this. Without the Twitter dimension, HTRT would have struggled to secure a national dialogue.
I have been teaching for 21 years and have held a number of roles; a common theme over the years is that education appears to follow a cyclical pattern of ‘innovation’. So what is ahead for us? PRP for all schools (academies aren’t exempt from this aspect of policy); a possible vocational/academic split at 14; a lack of praise for the comprehensive school that is not an academy…
We know that we are not a union, we are not a pressure group nor a charity. We believe, however, that the threat to the curriculum is real and the HTRT Bacc model, put together at our conference with other interested leaders via Twitter in Leeds in January and subsequent follow up in Enfield in March and Harlow in April, is simple: one inclusive system, unlimited challenge and a rounded education for all.
I look forward to continuing to contribute in such a small way to help shape the future.
Thanks for your continued support.
June 5th 2013.