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'It is neither complete nor flawless, but there is stuff to like in this White Paper'

It fails to address recruitment and retention problems, but who could deny the allure of an Ofsted holiday? The leader of a heads' union analyses the new White Paper

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It is difficult to analyse the White Paper without the issue of universal academisation looming over it. But I've said what I feel about that already, so let's just assume I've got a problem with it and move on to the other bits.

There is stuff to like in this paper. It is neither complete nor flawless, but there are some promising policies. For the first time in five years, we see signs that unregulated autonomy and fragmentation are not desirable. That there is a system within which individual institutions operate and that the system requires cultivation. Put another way, if you want people to rise to their accountabilities and make the most of their freedom, you have to invest in their capability and capacity. 

Before I talk about what I like, let's explore the number of ways in which the White Paper may reduce school autonomy. Operating within a chain does not necessarily make a school more free than within a local authority. Some chains interfere with operational decisions far more than any local authority ever did. That's not an endorsement or an indictment, just a fact.

Lack of resources also restricts autonomy. If you do not have enough staff or money, then there are limits to what you can do. There are more funds promised for specific schemes, but the additional hit on employer pension contributions is worrying. I don't think this paper goes far enough to address recruitment and retention concerns.  

These are also two intriguing pieces of detail in the White Paper:

"We will also take steps to ensure that the wider education estate is safeguarded for future provision, and that the existing school estate can be used more easily for new schools and expansions where appropriate."

Is this a clever way to give power to the secretary of state to compel academies to increase their number on roll?

"Ensure ...ministers are able to make and evolve policy that will apply equally to both past and future academies especially in urgent situations."

Does this spell the end of secure and irrevocable funding agreements, allowing the secretary of state to make policy for all academies without negotiating individually? One could argue that this is entirely logical but it is not what the early waves signed up to. 

Enough stirring on the autonomy front! What's good?

I like the changes to QTS. This is not the end of an entry qualification, but its strengthening in line with practice in other professions. There are hints of more long-term stability for ITT place allocation. Allocations will follow quality – although we lack a good measure of quality. I'd argue that three-year retention is a good proxy – it means the preparation has worked for both teacher and school. 

The Education Endowment Foundation has earned its endorsement and broader remit. I welcome the commitment to a College of Teaching, despite doubts that have crept in recently. It is a good idea – let's make the reality live up to the inspiration. 

There's attention paid to leadership, including a nod to the foundation that we've set up with ASCL, NGA, the Teaching School Council and now with NASBM participating. We must reverse the decline in leadership development, but the responsibility belongs with the profession now. They've broken the Ofsted gatekeeper role for entry into system leadership – you will no longer require an outstanding designation. This is right: there is talent locked in good schools that we cannot afford to waste. 

Perhaps this will help us deal with the issue of cold spots – those parts of the country not endowed with the capacity necessary for school-to-school support. “Cold spots” is not a good name, so we're to call them Achieving Excellence Areas. 

Who could deny the allure of an Ofsted holiday? Two weeks in Butlins with an HMI... No wait, a 30-month window before inspection for those turning-round schools. Apparently we're not supposed to call it a “holiday” though, so let's keep calling it that. There are other limits on Ofsted proposed too, such as removing a separate judgment for teaching and learning. 

I also like the idea that schools should retain accountability for students referred to alternative provision. This removes a potential conflict of interest.

In a similar vein, I would have liked to see a much firmer commitment to returning admissions to the local authority. They retain a small collection of duties but precious little resources or powers to deliver them.

It is this reduction of the authority – rather than the promised freedoms – that will drive most schools to become academies. But, there, I've gone and returned to the topic of academisation again. Hard to get away from it. 

Russell Hobby is general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union. He tweets as @russellhobby

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