Time to Go Upstream

“There comes a point when we need to stop just pulling people out of the river; we need to go upstream and find out why they are falling in.”

Desmond Tutu

The second HTRT Summit was held on Friday; looking across the river to the Houses of Parliament.  This is a summary of my opening remarks.  It’s an attempt to describe the point from which we started the day’s discussions.

Rob Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, joined us for the morning session.  The Committee are currently undertaking a review of the quality of Alternative Provision and the recent significant increase in the number of pupils attending.  When you go upstream you find the pernicious accountability system and unethical behaviour of a few Trusts/schools are feeding this increase in numbers.  The most vulnerable and disadvantaged children lose out.  To change this at source, we need to rethink accountability measures and put off rolled pupils back onto a school’s roll.  If there is allowance made for statistical outliers in performance measures which are also contextualised and multi-year you will effectively stem the movement of pupils out of mainstream.

Our current steroid driven accountability system, out of sync with many other nations’ systems, is driving the excessive workload adversely affecting the profession.  So far we’ve had workload working groups, a poster and now Ofsted are inspecting workload; the irony of the latter was not lost on people in the room.  The singular response seems to centre around flexible working.  Go upstream and you see systemic and systematic change is required to make teaching a “full time job you can do in a reasonable number of hours”.  Then flexible working becomes a genuine choice for some people rather than working five days but only being paid for four.  This is the only way some teachers can find to spend the weekend with their family.

Without deep rooted changes to accountability then teacher numbers won’t reach the levels we require; the crisis is being fuelled by insufficient retention and recruitment.  Whilst not untrue, ministers stating we have record numbers of teachers in our schools is unhelpful; it’s a half truth.  The 3,900 increase in primary school teachers has occurred whilst 166.000 more primary children have entered our schools; that’s a teacher:pupil ratio of 1:42 which  adds to the workload.  The systems response so far is: to have confusing multiple routes into the profession; £30,000 bursaries for some trainees (with no requirement to actually teach after training) and no bursaries for others; poor career structure and variable quality CPD.  However, if you go upstream there is a consultation out on a revised Qualified Teacher Status which needs linking to Initial Teacher Training and an early years’ career plan.  In short, the first five years of a teacher’s career needs a clear, sequential and supportive structure that welcomes graduates into the classroom and gives them the opportunity to become increasingly skilful as a teacher.  Many more experienced teachers, if given the time, would welcome the opportunity to work with those new to the profession.  None of this can be done on the cheap.

The issue of funding won’t go away.  If ministers want to continue stating that funding will increase from £41 billion to £43 billion then add in that there will be another one million pupils in schools between 2015 and 2025.  Voters won’t be impressed if they think they’ve been misled.  The National Funding Formula will only work if there is sufficient funding available in the first place.  Poorly evaluated bidding schemes and personal fads don’t help.  Go upstream and look at putting all the available funds into core school budgets.

So today, “we don’t need permission; there is much we can do”.  As a group we have a collective wisdom rooted in our everyday experience of school life.  Let’s use it to make a difference.

(Thanks to Heather for the Desmond Tutu quote and Vivienne for the phrasing around flexible working)


3 thoughts on “Time to Go Upstream

  1. jameswilding February 24, 2018 at 8:43 am Reply

    I was sorry I was not able to attend this year’s HTRT. I found last year’s event an excellent gap filler in both my knowledge and experience as an Independent school headteacher working amongst state school heads.
    Almost all education regulation that impacts education impacts my school, which is why I feel it important to listen to and contribute to the conversation. As funding from the state impacts my school for nursery provision and for EHCP funding, I have a direct interest in both these areas. It has not been possible to expand our nursery offer of 15 hours to 30 hours, as the per capita income would not cover the costs of provision. Likewise, EHCP additional funding is clearly in need of review, as local authorities top slice £6k off as ‘already provided’, whilst in plenty of cases of mental health the required pathway for therapeutic intervention isn’t available at the time of demand.

  2. jameswilding February 24, 2018 at 9:07 am Reply

    On the provision of new teachers and professionals into education, we currently have 32 in training, representing about 10% of our workforce, receiving in turn very specific mentoring from a further 10%. For some, the attraction of training with us is through paid employment whilst in turn working for their degree, ITT, NQT, Masters, NPQH etc. For others, it is the work/life balance as well, or perhaps the work/purpose balance instead. Not much is written about the difference in quality assurance measures between the 2 sectors. In a recent Independent Schools Inspectorate Regulatory compliance inspection we received (and passed fully), 2 recent leadership joiners with us were able to compare and contrast their experiences with Ofsted in their previous schools last year. They were amazed at the thoroughness of inspection of H&S, welfare, recruitment, staff contracts, appraisal, complaints, safeguarding and staff accountability measures, policies and their implementation, minibus transport licences, trips and education visits. As a good school, evaluation of teaching and learning in depth happens every 6 years, but in this intervening 2 day inspection, those elements are given a thorough scrub through too. “It felt so much more like an effective process, rather than face the microscopic examination examination of progress made by children as seen against exam results” said one. Our sectors can and do learn from each other but not actively enough. That That is in our hands. What can we do improve this?

  3. […] Tierney’s blog about his opening […]

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