Need to know: The NAHT conference, what you missed

More funding worries, a warm welcome for Hinds’ accountability plans and Nick Gibb bingo
8th May 2018, 5:00am


Need to know: The NAHT conference, what you missed

You may well have spent your bank holiday basking in a rare outbreak of glorious weather.

But in Liverpool this weekend there were serious schools matters afoot as the education secretary spoke at the annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers - the country’s biggest school leaders union.

Here’s your essential guide to what went on:

In his first speech as NAHT president Andy Mellor highlighted the personal impact of funding cuts on schools as he told of the heartbreak at being unable to retain all of the staff who helped to make his school outstanding.

But anyone expecting a repeat of the hostility towards the Government  on the issue seen at this year’s ASCL conference was in for a surprise.

Damian Hinds made some friends and a very big announcement

Education secretaries arriving at trade union conferences with a big announcement to make are not always afforded the warmest of welcomes.

However Damian Hinds was applauded when he appeared to lift the pressure off schools with plans to simplify the accountability system. Floor targets and the coasting schools category are to make way for a single new measure for deciding which schools to support which will now be consulted on.

Not only this but from now on Regional Schools Commissioners will no longer inspect schools and only an Ofsted inadequate judgement will result in forced academisation. And there was even a little bit of money for teachers to go on sabbatical.

Everyone seemed to welcome these ideas. Even the former education secretary who came up with the idea of targeting coasting schools in the first place.

The heads union wants to work with Government

The NAHT has been campaigning on several fronts but its general secretary Paul Whiteman was keen to characterise his union as one that would work with the Government to find solutions rather than battle against them.

He warned his members that the language of “victory and defeat”  would not be helpful.  Whiteman feels the messages Hinds sent to headteachers this weekend shows that this approach is clearly working. And he committed to work with the Government in future on improving school accountability and school funding.

Angela Rayner wins over heads too

Labour’s shadow education secretary enjoyed a standing ovation as she reassured heads that she was on their side. 

Angela Rayner suggested Scandinavian school systems could offer the solution to reforming primary education to ensure that pupils are happy and resilient. She contrasted this with the approach of the government  and revealed that Labour’s front bench liked to play ‘Nick Gibb bingo’ based on  the schools minister’s frequent references to synthetic phonics. 

She also outlined her vision to create a national education service, inspired by the NHS, providing support to people from cradle to grave.  Ms Rayner said she wanted to consult with heads on how this will work as she assured them, much as Hinds had done a day earlier, that she wanted to listen.

What do heads want?

The event saw members debating a range of issues. In early years it called for the DfE to recognise the lack of men working in the sector.  On accountability a motion was passed calling for all new changes to the system to be first made subject to evidence-based checks. Heads suggested carrying out a survey to identify why so many school leaders are leaving and to press the Government to address teacher workload. They also threw their support behind a project to ensure schools can support pupils whenever they are affected by domestic abuse.

But most of all they need more money for their schools

Despite some positivity towards politicians this weekend it is impossible to get away from the scale of the school funding crisis. A dozen motions have been put forward calling for the union to lobby the Government in one way or another. The concerns are familiar: Funding is not matching schools’ rising costs; the high needs funding block faces a shortfall;  a fair funding formula should mean more money for all regions; that it is unfair to expect schools to pay the apprenticeship levy.  Motions on funding were passed almost unanimously.

Cumbrian headteacher Clem Coady suggested the union should go further and stage a national day of action to highlight the issue. This was not voted on but the reaction in the room suggested it might well receive widespread support from heads.





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