The last six months as we approached the election have been a time of uncertainty for school leaders, but Friday morning delivered certainty and security for our schools. Teachers and headteachers alike did not want more changes at a time when things are finally starting to look more positive as the hard work over the last five years is coming to fruition. Regardless of our political inclinations, this is the most positive outcome for schools because it means that we can now build on the hard work that has led to a stronger educational landscape.
Over the last five years, we have seen the education system make huge strides forward in terms of securing a national curriculum based on high standards and ambition for all children, eradicating mediocrity in the education system by removing expensive local authorities and securing a school-led system, capable of transforming all schools into successful schools.
1. A high standard for all pupils
In September I was sitting in a lecture theatre in Shanghai listening to educational experts about mathematics. The main point that I picked up on was an absolute belief from all teachers and leaders in the Shanghai schools that every child would achieve the same high standard in mathematics as a result of high-quality, precise teaching. The other striking difference for me was a philosophy that, regardless of where you come from, if you work hard, you will achieve well at school and ultimately in life.
David Cameron’s resounding message of working hard is what is needed in our country and that starts in our schools. We can make our teaching exciting and we can inspire young people to want to learn but we must also teach them that there is no magic bullet and, to do well in life, there is no getting away from the fact that you have to work exceptionally hard and, even then, if you are ambitious, to push yourself even harder.
The national curriculum – a mastery curriculum – clearly sets out the end-of-year expectations and the best schools in the country have a belief that every child will achieve this standard. We no longer have complicated levels, nor do we tolerate underachievement of pupils. If a child leaves my primary school below the required standard then, as a team, we recognise that we have failed them. Children who have been through the new curriculum this year are extremely well placed to go through primary school with no gap between the lowest and highest attainers. This is the brighter future I am talking about.
2. Eradicating mediocrity
Some of the best schools are academy chains with a strong capacity for turning around failing schools. The mentality of the leaders in those schools, particularly those in London, have a created a culture of success; they get on with the job. The best school leaders influence the system through demonstrating their success and interpreting policy in a way that works for their community, rather than trying to fight against national policy. Nobody can argue with the principle that we want all children to leave primary school with a love of reading, mathematical understanding and both technical and creative writing skills. It is our job to get them there.
3. A school-led system
The greatest success of this government has been putting the responsibility for school improvement back into schools rather than expensive local authorities, which has resulted in rapid improvement of failing schools. Success breeds success and the leaders of outstanding schools have the skills and the confidence to turn around schools quickly, often by using other outstanding practitioners to work alongside teachers until they reach the standard that the children deserve. As a system leader, I know that turning schools around is not rocket science; it is about creating the right professional culture and developing a clear and consistent approach to teaching.
4. The journey ahead
What am I excited about? Teaching schools play a huge part in the system; as a leader of a new teaching-school alliance, I am passionate about the future of education. Every school should now be part of a strong alliance with a belief that every child can and will master the curriculum. Groups of schools will work with teaching schools to train the highest calibre of teachers so that we can guarantee the quality of education in our classrooms for every child. I am looking forward to teaching schools stepping up and taking even more responsibility for improving standards. Any school that is an isolated island will fall behind, so I would encourage every school to join a group with strong leadership and to link with a local teaching school so that every teacher and leader has access to outstanding CPD. This is the future, and I am excited about it.
Andrew Truby is executive headteacher and director of Learning Unlimited Teaching School Alliance St Thomas of Canterbury School.