‘Deep educational reform will not come from outside the profession. It depends on us – the many, not just the few’
Leora Cruddas, policy director of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), writes:
As the immortal William Gibson said: “The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” And he was right for all sorts of reasons.
This time last year, ASCL invited everyone interested in education to join with us in a Great Education Debate about how to further improve the education system in this country. The response was overwhelming and thought-provoking, and last week we set out the main themes from the debate – then discussed how we might draw these into a vision for the future.
The vision coming out of the Great Education Debate starts with a call for relentless focus on achievement for all. We must reject the idea that some students are limited in what they can accomplish either by social background or by perceived intelligence. To borrow renowned educator Ron Edmonds’ ideas, cited in David Hopkins’ contribution to the Great Education Debate:
- We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us;
- We already know more than we need to do that;
- Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven't so far.
Of course, we cannot do this without the professional knowledge and skill of teachers. Our teachers must be freed from the constraints of prescription in order to develop their professional skills and, importantly, to both use evidence and create evidence. These two – the use and creation of evidence – are hallmarks of a profession.
But this cannot happen without a compelling curriculum vision. School and college leaders are leaders of learning. And there is now scope for individual institutions to develop and implement their own curriculum philosophy.
This is not a question of the national curriculum, nor should curriculum be simply a pragmatic response to qualification reform or accountability measures. School leaders must decide on a vision and philosophy for their curriculum that will suit the context in which they are working – one that inspires and enables young people to achieve and be successful, rounded people.
An enormous amount is expected of school and college leaders. As quoted by Canadian educationist Michael Fullan in 2001: “We demand that [leaders] solve, or at least manage, a multitude of interconnected problems that can develop into crisis without warning; we require them to navigate an increasingly turbulent reality that is in key aspects, literally incomprehensible to the human mind; we buffet them on every side with bolder, more powerful special interests that challenge every innovative policy idea; we submerge them in often unhelpful and distracting information; and we force them to decide and act at an ever faster pace.”
However, despite these challenges, school and college leaders know that global society is changing rapidly. Education needs to respond. Perhaps the appropriate response is not incremental change but radical, transformational thinking. As leadership consultant John West-Burnham suggests, we need a transition from the propeller to the jet engine.
John reminds us that in the years before the First World War, Ludwig Wittgenstein produced a radically innovative design for a new type of propeller – however, it was still a propeller. The answer to the problem of making aircraft faster was improving the jet engine, not the propeller.
Three key leadership challenges emerge from the contributions to our debate: our collective ability to imagine the future, create value and lead the system.
Alongside the day job of leading our schools and colleges, we must also consider the future shape of the education system – not just how we add value, but how we create value and how we lead the system.
Deep and sustained reform of our education system will not come from outside the profession: it depends on us – the many, not just the few.
We at ASCL are now embarking on a blueprint for a self-improving system. Leading the change will involve a new mindset: that our education system is not composed of a series of givens by those outside the profession, to which we are required to respond and by which we are constrained. Rather our leadership must be active, passionate and driven by our collective dedication and effort.
This is how we will bring about real, long-lasting change to education in this country.