Five Principles

The other major outcome of our January Conference was a review of our original six point plan; we concluded that the plan did not address directly the key issue – how to develop a credible alternative to the DfE’s proposed changes to the curriculum.

As Tom Sherrington and other educationalists shape  alternative curriculum models, they will be abiding by a set of clear principles which were agreed at the Conference:

  1. The pace of educational change should not be affected by party politics;

  2. Schools must be able to offer all their students the chance to thrive and flourish;

  3. Educational change should begin by identifying the desired outcomes for children;

  4. Prioritising high quality teaching & learning and the curriculum will lead to world class assessment and accountability;

  5. The teaching profession should be centrally involved in developing future education policy.


24 thoughts on “Five Principles

  1. Julie Aldous February 5, 2013 at 7:21 pm Reply

    Brilliant! Really impressed by this. Thank you I shall be emailing for some cards.

  2. John Mountford February 6, 2013 at 11:14 pm Reply

    I have no desire to be confrontational, BUT, at last a group of experienced professionals is standing up and will be counted if they stick to their mission. Why has it taken so long? The writing has been on the wall for a long time. I am puzzled, as a former NAHT, and before that an NUT member, why all the professional bodies appear to be involved only at the fringe in this debate. That decisive action is finally being taken is, however, all that matters.

    Your Five Principles are a welcome antidote to the despair increasingly felt by too many professionals seeing no way forward. However, I WOULD URGE YOU TO CONSIDER ONE AMENDMENT TO THE FIRST PRINCIPLE WITH THE ADDITION OF TWO MORE WORDS, as follows:

    “The pace AND DIRECTION of educational change should not be affected by party politics;”

    I, too, am on a mission and with the same agenda. I have written about this in quiet places, biding my time and waiting for fresh shoots of hope to appear. This is what The Headteachers’ Roundtable represents for the future of education and of our young people.

    A comprehensive review of decision-making in eduction, under strong and independent leadership, is long overdue. The current stand-off reveals the bankruptcy of existing procedures and threatens the future. Governments have the power to have their way but it is a raw power, unsuited to the considerable challenges that lie ahead if we are to serve coming generations wisely. To break this deadlock, everyone, not just politicians, must contribute to the discussion about how education policy is to be decided in the future.

    To this end, politicians of all parties are called upon to support the establishment of a National Education Commission. Its first task being to draft proposals, outlining how responsibility for national policy-making for education may be decoupled from the machinery of party politics.

    I am about to launch a campaign based on this principle and would ask that Roundtable members consider supporting it.

  3. […] with a track record of success, high achievement, and a reform agenda based on solid evidence. HeadsRoundtable have also developed five principles to underpin future curriculum […]

  4. pedagoginthemachine March 3, 2013 at 1:04 am Reply

    Only just seen this. Bloody brilliant! A vast improvement on the original plan – nice work!

  5. D Morley- Davies March 12, 2013 at 6:49 am Reply

    Great work! – Assume these are not in rank order but – could principle 3 be given some form of precedence – this seems to be our fundamental issue?

  6. Helen Clements March 12, 2013 at 10:00 pm Reply

    I am not a teacher and my question that I feel all heads should be asking is how do I know that I am engaging with my audience as once they are engaged they will listen and ultimately learn.
    I also would like you to consider how you change the stereo typing that education continues to do send out in to the world. E.g jobs for boys and jobs for the girls
    Also re decision making about education policy needs to include business as all your students go through education and are expected to achieve excellent results to enable them to secure work.
    How does education know what this looks like without engaging with business?

  7. peteyeo March 12, 2013 at 11:00 pm Reply

    My version (without the protectionism):

    The pace of educational change should prioritise the needs of children & their future prospects;

    Schools have a moral obligation to offer all their students the chance to succeed;

    Educational change should begin by identifying the desired outcomes for children; this should be prioritised above the interests of teachers;

    Prioritising high quality research inforned teaching & learning and the curriculum will lead to world class assessment and accountability;

    Future education policy should be decided by the elected politicians, given mandate by the British people. The teaching profession should be consulted but only those demonstrating altruism and objectivity should be centrally involved in developing future education policy.

    More detail at

    • headteachersroundtable June 8, 2013 at 4:53 pm Reply

      Just for clarification, this comment was approved a while ago at the same time as many others when we returned after a longish break to administer this site. It is open to others to comment on if they wish to. Thanks for contributing. Comments are now administered on a weekly basis but we don’t intend to reply to each one unless specific questions are asked that can be given direct answers.

  8. Joanne Olsen March 12, 2013 at 11:05 pm Reply

    Very clear and decisive way forward. At point 3 it would be great to see you working with all these employers who feel that children are not learning the skills they need to fit them for work. After all children need employment skills as well as academic skills. It is also great to see a focus on all children being able to achieve.
    As a governor it is great to see you standing up to be counted. Keep up the good work

  9. […] have some concerns about the Headsroundtable.  It is, without doubt,  a group of noble people, trying to do the right […]

  10. Dave Peck March 13, 2013 at 7:55 am Reply

    Well done all involved in Headteachers’ Roundtable. It is truly incredible that the principle of making children’s learning the driver of education reform should somehow be regarded as radical. My only regret is that education professionals haven’t taken the initiative before. May this mark the start of an era of sound good sense in education policy.

  11. John Norman March 13, 2013 at 5:20 pm Reply

    I’m quite shocked by this. All those professional brains sitting round a conference table, and all you can come up with is this feeble list? The first is patently unattainable, the fourth makes no sense, and the other three are truisms. You should be embarrassed, not proud.

  12. Mark Priestley March 14, 2013 at 5:58 pm Reply

    Very welcome. It is about time we saw some professional activism. One word of caution: please keep the solutions research focused (and I don’t mean the narrow and instrumental cherry picking of ‘helpful’ research findings as is the current vogue in government). Keep up the good work.

  13. nicknuttgens May 9, 2013 at 8:52 pm Reply

    I think these new principles are great – broader and more strategic than those that emerged from the first Heads Roundtable meeting. To those who say they’re not practical enough, I’d point out that they’re the broad aims and principles that will guide the formation of detailed action points. They’re crisp and clear and I agree with all of them. Really exciting!

    What they don’t in themselves do, however, is address the obstacles to their implementation. They are focused on the vision – which of course is the essential first step – but a more detailed strategy will need to come up with ideas how to surmount the obstacles, to prevent the vision from dying in the water. To take the obvious example, you can write as many visions as you like but at the moment a new Secretary of Sate can veto them all on the basis of whim – and of course they do…

    I drafted some ideas about this some time ago that I know the first Heads Roundtable saw. I’m going to paste an edited version below, as a reminder. My points cover much of the same territory but challenge the system more directly. This may seem idealistic or grandiose but actually I think it’s going to be a necessity. What’s more there is a growing desire for change amongst voters. Politicians need to change their ways if they want to regain our respect; if they don’t, disillusioned voters may very well turn to fascist parties as in Greece.

    My point about the importance of the HOW is also very important. It is implied but not explicitly stated in the HR principles. At some point you have to decide whether you believe in educating and encouraging people, or in intimidating and punishing them – and I mean teachers here.

    Finally, I assume that you are linking up with Mick Waters. Debra Kidd and others who have initiatives on the go. There needs to be coherence in this – at least at the level of key principles. Once the sector is agreed on those, there can be myriad experiments and interpretations.

    I think we need to assert, demand and work towards:

    1. Evidence-based policy
    (a) Research must be based on clear questions, e.g. What is the specific problem? What processes inside and outside the school system impinge on the problem? How could those processes feasibly be changed?
    (b) New ideas must be tested rigorously in pilot projects before being rolled out.

    Too many policy initiatives are based on the beliefs, hunches and rhetoric of individual politicians.

    2. Independent evaluation
    To evaluate evidence, we need, as Estelle Morris has said, “the education equivalent of NICE or the OBR so we can be confident that when ministers talk about evidence they aren’t simply providing cover for their own prejudices.”

    Politicians can be highly selective about the evidence that they will act upon.

    3. Credible leadership
    We must insist that all who serve on any national education policy body have profound and current knowledge of teaching, schools, change management and systems thinking.

    Nothing is more galling than being ordered to do things by people who have little or no experience in the field.

    4. Sensible timescales
    We must demand sensible timescales for the introduction of new approaches.

    The electoral cycle is not acceptable as the determinant of the pace of change.

    5. Long term goal-setting
    The key goals for education must be agreed on an all-party basis and ratified by parliament for at least two administrations.

    Sustained improvement is set back by changes of government and repeated restructures.

    6. Practice-based improvement (JPD)
    Teachers and school staff should be supported to improve their practice systematically through local action research projects and collaborations, as well as through electronic tools.

    Education improvement is a complex challenge; top down prescription has not, so far, achieved step change in education outcomes.

    7. Time and support for teacher development
    Education leaders must make it their top priority to allocate time to nurture a dynamic professional learning culture in every school.

    Much is said about the importance of improving standards in teaching but little is said about the time it takes.

    8. The minister as facilitator
    We should draw up a Job Description for the Secretary of State for Education that acknowledges his/her role as our democratically elected representative and chief commissioner while requiring that s/he proceeds through respectful partnership, not authoritarian imposition.

    Ministers often ask useful questions but few of them have the expertise to lead education policy development from the front and few stay in the job longer than three years.

    9. Respectful and participatory process
    We must assert as a core principle that the ‘how’ is as important as the ‘what’, if we want to implement new policies successfully. Without staff actively cooperating, feeling enthusiastic and having a contribution to make beyond just obeying orders, we will never achieve the outcomes we all desire for the children in our schools.

    Enthusiasm for improvement cannot be engendered by a system which routinely invalidates practitioners

    • headteachersroundtable June 8, 2013 at 4:43 pm Reply

      Dear Nick
      I realise that you did not receive a reply to this at the time of leaving it. Apologies. Your 9 points are excellent and chime in with all of our discussions. You’ve made some excellent suggestions and I will endeavour to bring them to the fore at our next meeting. Thanks for the input. We’re now working on a better approach accountability and these ideas will be a good contribution to thinking in that area.
      Best wishes
      Tom Sherrington (HTRT)

  14. June Smith May 14, 2013 at 12:29 pm Reply

    The trouble is these principles are nothing more than bland advertising slogans that everyone would agree with. In fact they have some direct links to things that Gove himself has said. I am searching and searching this website for really new ideas and debate but I just can’t find any. Although I have found it useful it in a GCSE politics lesson as an example of ‘vacuous campaigning’. This is my third comment on different pages after your request to contributor – Betty, for people to ‘engage with the ideas’ but at the moment I’m still finding her insights to be a wise assessment of this group. There isn’t nearly enough (or indeed any) meat here for busy and intelligent teachers to get their teeth into. Just all rather – anodyne, bland and obvious.

    • headteachersroundtable May 19, 2013 at 9:19 pm Reply

      Dear June. The fault here is that we haven’t given much time to developing this site or responding to comments. I don’t think any have been deleted. Each of our open conferences have provided an invigorating forum to discuss issues. Initially we focused on the proposed EBacc/EBCs which have taken a different direction since. We’re currently working on our ‘inclusive Bacc’ model which has actually found favour with a lot of different groups where we’ve presented it. More will follow from this. We’re clear that we need to present alternatives; not merely protest in a vacuous nebulous fashion. Over time we hope to present a clear coherent model for a qualifications framework; sound alternative ideas for an accountability system are our next area of interest. There is no more too it than that and we’ve never set out to be more than we are. I’d suggest that GCSE politics students might benefit from knowing that any group of people can gather to express their views and to be heard; that is real democracy. We might need to be better organised to deal with the traffic of comments and so on. It has been a busy time!

  15. Liz Warren August 31, 2013 at 7:26 am Reply

    I note there is only one Primary Rep on the group. Is there any intention to do similar work for the Primary Curriculum?

    • headteachersroundtable September 22, 2013 at 8:15 pm Reply

      We are liaising with Primary Colleagues and we had good representation at our conferences. However, we probably do need a stronger primary wing of HTRT It could be something that develops in the next year. It is something we’ll discuss.

  16. […] Or maybe we should listen to the voices of reason in the higher echelons of our private school system where both Sir Anthony Seldon and Tony Little, head masters of Wellington College and Eton respectively, voice their concerns about the distortion of education purpose in our current system, as do the Head Teachers who formed the Headteachers’ Roundtable. […]

  17. […] for a Self-Improving System is a document I return to, alongside the Headteachers’ Roundtable Five Principles and Alternative Green Paper, as a common-sense but ambitious vision for how education could work in […]

  18. […] there has been tensions between the Heads’ Roundtable and OFSTED over the alleged existence of system bias against schools with white working class […]

  19. […] so good cohort and be deemed terrible or amazing depending on which came first. I’m afraid Progress 8 has done nothing to prevent this from happening as others have already said. The off-rolling we have seen is a direct result of people trying to manage this […]

  20. Kai Vacher May 5, 2020 at 5:44 am Reply

    Educational change should begin by identifying the desired outcomes for children; I completely agree. I suggest that a useful starting point in relation to this principle for any school, group of schools or system is to engage their teachers in a open and honest debate around the 4 key questions related to the desired outcomes for education as identified by Prof.Guy Claxton in his SSAT (2013) pamphlet: ‘What Kind of teaching for what kind of learning?’ You might like to read how we did this at our school back in the summer 2014:
    Having this discussion with all our colleagues and implementing the agreed outcomes of that discussion for the last 6 years has had more impact on teaching, learning, curriculum design and student well being than anything else we have done in the 50 year history of our school…and the cost of this change? the time given over to 5 staff meetings.

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