On Wednesday 28th August, members of the Heads’ Roundtable attended a meeting with Michael Gove at the DFE offices in Westminster. We had written to him to ask for a meeting to draw his attention to the two main issues we have worked on so far:
- The qualifications framework, where we have proposed our own English Baccalaureate model.
- The accountability framework, where we have launched a consultation that is still live.
Meeting beforehand, we agreed that our objectives were to make sure he was fully aware of these proposals and that we secured some form of commitment to engage in an ongoing dialogue. We also hoped to convey our perspective on the impact that the current accountability framework has on schools. We wanted to make the case that OfSTED inspections and league table measures fuel the tendency towards risk-averse school cultures with numerous perverse incentives to engage in activities that run counter to sound educational principles.
The meeting was originally scheduled to be a 30 minute slot but ended up being a good hour-long discussion. As expected, Mr Gove was charming, open to debate and the atmosphere was convivial. It was a good professional dialogue.
At several points in the discussion, he was keen to ask how and where our views and proposals diverge from the direction of policy. Combined with his ‘engaged and listening’ demeanour, this made it quite easy for us to make our views clear.
During the discussion, we made the following points:
- We are certainly not enemies of promise; we’re seeking to contribute to improving the system at every level.
- We want to see models of inspection and school performance measures that take greater account of a school’s journey, context and the full educational experience of learners as well as focusing on examination outcomes. We made suggestions and heard Michael Gove’s views on some flaws in the current system.
- We’d like the Secretary of State to tackle the damaging paradox of promoting high-stakes consequences for schools that fail to improve on threshold outcome measures whilst also reinforcing the central role of the current examinations model where, de facto, statistical standards-setting overrides the possibility of all students improving. We had a good discussion around grade inflation, gaming and the persistence of perverse incentives to focus narrowly on exam preparation over deepening learning.
- We asked Mr Gove to engage with the ideas in our English Baccalaureate model and promoted some of the features including the overarching principle that it is a universal, rigorous,inclusive holistic framework. We outlined the idea of piano grades as a model for progressive qualifications in English and Maths and the value of a school-designed personal development programme. Mr Gove queried whether this needed to be legislated for or merely allowed and encouraged. He asked how it could be factored into performance tables.
- We touched on accountability at 11, 16 and 18 and the need for intelligent progress measures that facilitate transition, incentivise schools and colleges to collaborate in reducing NEETs. We also touched on the risk to school-to-school support if there is a perception of a zero-sum mechanism in the examination system or the accountability measures.
Of course, the extent to which he will have been swayed by anything we said remains to be seen. We know that there are plenty of other people voicing ideas and opinions and, although we felt it was a constructive exchange, we’re under no illusions.
At the end of the meeting, Michael Gove offered to help set-up a follow-up meeting with Sir Michael Wilshaw so we can share the outcomes of our consultation. He also suggested that he would continue to engage with us. We left happy that we’d met our objectives; in many ways the meeting exceeded our expectations.
On Thursday 29th August, Ros McMullen and Tom Sherrington met with Tim Leunig, Policy Advisor to David Laws at the DFE. He is an extremely intelligent man with a strong grasp on the issues and the capacity to see things from a range of perspectives.
The discussion mirrored the discussions with Michael Gove but we were able to explore some of the technical issues around progress measures, deprivation indices, incentives in high-stakes performance tables and the relationship between DFE, OfSTED and OfQual in shaping policy. Tim has committed to giving feedback on our Bacc proposals and our Accountability Consultation. We’ve invited him to attend our anniversary conference on October 16th and he is hoping to do so.
As with other meetings with policy advisors, it was possible to gain a sense of the political dimension to policy making. Some issues have clearly been discussed already but have been rejected; some issues are supported in principle but are regarded as unrealistic in political terms. Evidently, and inevitably, other Heads’ groups represent views that are perhaps not ones we would agree with.
However, we feel that we are now in a position where, through ongoing engagement with our followers on twitter, our conferences and our consultations, we have established a means of raising issues as they are experienced by teachers and leaders from across the system, taking them directly to the people who make policy. That is a good position to be in in our first year. It is obviously just the beginning and we’re deeply grateful for all the support we receive.
Tom Sherrington on behalf of Headteachers’ Roundtable.