Politics

‘Appalled’ leaders write to Malthouse over school ‘mediocrity’ claims

Education secretary accused of 'taking cheap shots at a profession already on its knees'

Education secretary accused of 'taking cheap shots at a profession already on its knees'

“Appalled” headteachers have accused Kit Malthouse of “taking cheap shots at a profession already on its knees” after he described “mediocrity” in the school system.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL and Evelyn Forde, the union’s president and a serving headteacher, have written to the education secretary to express “dismay” over his address to the Conservative Party conference.

The education secretary told delegates in Birmingham yesterday that England’s school system needs “constant attention and constant pressure” from government to “drive it forward”.

In a message to underperforming schools and academy trusts, Kit Malthouse warned there was “nothing quite as persistent as people hanging on to mediocrity”.

academy school malthouse
Evelyn Forde

Barton and Forde said they wanted to express concern at what his comments “might presage”.

They said they had spent what they thought was a “constructive” two days at conference, even speaking alongside DfE ministers at fringe events, where leaders highlighted “major challenges currently affecting our schools and colleges”.

“In this context, we were frankly appalled to hear you talk about people leading and working in our schools and colleges as ‘hanging on to mediocrity’, and claim that education needs ‘constant attention and constant pressure’ in order to ‘drive it forward’.”

‘No school is hanging on to mediocrity’

They said they recognised there were “some schools and colleges which are performing less well than others”. They shared Malthouse’s “ambition for all children and young people to be given every opportunity to achieve their potential”.

“However, we completely reject your premise that any school or college is ‘hanging on to mediocrity’.”

Barton and Forde pointed to Malthouse’s own comments about the “vast majority” of schools being rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

They also pointed to research that found schools with lower ratings “often face a combination of ‘unusually challenging circumstances’.

These include high teacher turnover, high pupil mobility, more disadvantaged pupils, being located in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, and having higher levels of pupils with SEND”.

“These are not schools which are choosing to be ‘mediocre’; they are schools battling against the odds to do the very best they can for some of our most vulnerable children and young people.”

They said they also “strongly refute your suggestion that the answer to improving outcomes in these schools lies in ‘constant pressure’ from government”.

“On the contrary, the extreme pressure already felt by leaders, teachers and support staff is one of the main drivers of the current exodus of staff from our schools and colleges.”

Survey highlights existing ‘pressure’ on school leaders

A recent ASCL survey found over half of those considering leaving headship cited a lack of recognition from the government as a key reason, while half cited accountability measures, government education policy and pressure from funding restraint.

school malthouse
Barton

Almost seven in 10 said they were exhausted or fatigued, and two-thirds pointed to “unsustainable” workload or working house.

Barton and Forde added: “Self-evidently, this is not a problem to which the answer is ‘more pressure from government’.

“Rather than raising the stakes even higher, and taking cheap shots at a profession already on its knees, your department should be moving heaven and earth to provide schools and colleges with the funding they need to keep their doors open.”

Ministers also need to support schools to provide “education and care to children and young people with increasingly complex needs, and a functioning pipeline of teachers to staff their organisations”.

“Anything else is mere posturing. We would appreciate the opportunity to discuss these concerns with you as soon as possible.”

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