2023 in review

2023 in review: Our focus must be on rebuilding a broken social contract

Trust leaders must learn from our longest-standing institutions and put long-term aims over short-term results

Trust leaders must learn from our longest-standing institutions and put long-term aims over short-term results

16 Dec 2023, 5:00

2023 has been a monumental year. Most recently, the Israel-Gaza war has reminded us how fragile peace and stability can be and how lucky we are to be living in a country where children can go about their daily lives freely.

Mossbourne is a diverse London trust and we have people affected on both sides of this conflict. It’s very important that we as educators are neutral. Our job is to encourage people to use their voice responsibly. At Mossbourne, we have a free press for our sixth formers, an essential part of making sure our young people understand what it means to have the ability to speak up and also the responsibility that comes with that.

While we are fortunate to live in a country that is mainly peaceful, trust leaders have faced immediate and urgent challenges this year, including how we support local families to deal with the cost-of-living crisis. For others, there has also been the impact of RAAC. Some children have been stuck at home again, not getting the education or socialisation they deserve and need. This is unacceptable, and all we can do is be honest and clear about the scale of the challenge ahead and the support needed.

Simultaneously, all trusts have had to focus on rebuilding the social contract around attending school. This social contract was broken in the pandemic and the damage will take years to undo. Ultimately, we need a strong focus on rebuilding trust across society as a whole so that we can serve our communities well.

Speaking of the importance of trust, the developments made in generative AI this year have the potential to be one of the greatest transformations in our history. I have been teaching for over 25 years, and for the first time I can write a comprehensive digital strategy in the space of 20 minutes. I can ask AI to read websites and pick off key points for me. The potential right now feels limitless, particularly for someone like me with little time to write.

All we can do is be honest and clear about the scale of the challenge

At the same time, we must all take time to consider just how racist AI might be. AI has mainly been developed by white men and it has the potential to be racist, sexist and misogynistic. We cannot afford to end up in an echo chamber, but we can’t shut down AI. The only answer is to educate our children on how to use it and to debate the current issues with it openly.

Following the tragic passing of Ruth Perry and the conclusion of the inquest, we are all reflecting on the power that institutions have. With a new lead inspector for Ofsted in the new year, I think we all also need to reflect on the power we give to one person. All good public systems have a properly functioning regulator. We need to agree as a sector on what we are looking for from ours: what we think good education is and, ultimately, what we think the job of our regulator is. If we can do that together, we can create positive change. As I reflect on in my book, I don’t think the ‘outstanding’ label does anybody any favours, and I think moving to an audit-style system would be a good direction of travel.

Trusts are organisations with an enormous amount of responsibility, and we are also brand new. In the UK, institutions that have stood the test of time stand strong. We have seen how the nation came together to mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth II and this year saw the coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla with all the tradition and regalia that surrounds such an historic event.

We know the legacy of Queen Elizabeth II. As trust leaders, we also need to think about the legacy and longevity of our trusts. Are we thinking about what our next results are, or are we thinking about where our trust or school will be in 100 years’ time? Looking to the new year, I am as determined as ever to keep one priority in mind: is this in the best interests of our children?

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