For too long the relationship between government and the teaching profession has been strained.
Ministers have imposed frequent changes to curriculum, assessment and accountability, leaving school leaders and teachers to manage constantly moving goalposts.
Their aim may have been to raise standards, something with which we would all agree. However, their approach – of micro-management from above; change through central diktat – has reached the limit of what it can achieve.
In the process, it has left educators focusing too much energy and time on understanding and implementing poorly planned change, and students and parents anxious about the shifting sands of curriculum and exams.
What is abundantly clear is that top-down management of our education system has run out of steam and that a fresh approach is needed. And the time for that brave new world is now. This is a golden opportunity for the teaching profession and the new Government to work together to build a new relationship and take our education system forward to the next level.
The Association of School and College Leaders has set out a vision of what that new relationship might look like and how it might work in our Blueprint for a Self-Improving System.
It envisages government stepping back to an enabling role in which it would be responsible for providing funding that is sufficient, sustainable and equitable; a slim, smart and stable framework of standards; a reliable system of teacher supply in each sector and region; and a capital programme that ensures learning environments fit for the 21st century.
This is not a manifesto for the teaching profession to do as it pleases however. On the contrary. ASCL’s Blueprint is also a challenge to us as a profession to step forward and drive the constant improvement which is required to take our education system from being good to being great.
To start with we must recognise that developing the quality of teachers is one of the most important jobs we have. Professional learning could and should be better. It should be embedded in every school and involve every teacher, and it should be based on the evidence of what works best.
Our Blueprint envisages a system in which all schools work together, sharing expertise and resources, in teaching school alliances, or other partnerships, as well as developing formal relationships with higher education institutions to encourage teachers to undertake research which informs their practice.
Schools should also play a much greater role in deciding what is taught. We propose an independent commission for curriculum review – comprising school leaders, governors, teachers, parents, industry and politicians – which would define a core curriculum and review it every five years.
But that should be only one part of what is taught. Schools should develop their own curriculum. They must unleash greatness by undertaking to build character and resilience, inspiring and enabling young people to be successful, rounded people.
So too, should school leaders take ownership of accountability. In addition to the Government’s measures, schools should have.their own. These should demonstrate whether the school is achieving its vision and aims, focusing sharply on achieving more and doing things in a better way.
The Inspiring Leadership Conference 2015 is an exceptional opportunity for schools leaders from all parts of the system to come together and explore these issues in greater depth. It will include a masterclass in which Blueprint author Leora Cruddas, Director of Policy at ASCL, and I, will look at what this change of culture would mean in practice.
Blueprint is all about inspiring leadership. It is about school leaders stepping out from the straitjacket of a top-down system and using their expertise and energy to raise their sights to entirely new levels. And its central principle is that every child, regardless of either social background or perceived intelligence, can and should have an education which enables them to achieve their full potential.
If all of this sounds like a lot to ask of school leaders that is because it is. We must become the guardians of a higher level of ambition than any government would ever dare ask. The time to start is now.