What do we want? To change politics, say headteachers

13th March 2015 at 00:00
School leaders' manifesto aims to shape parties' policy-making

With the UK's political parties yet to reveal their election manifestos, an influential group of headteachers has attempted to inform their decision-making by publishing its own.

The Headteachers' Roundtable, which describes itself as a thinktank for school leaders, has set out its own proposals for the next government.

And time is of the essence for the school leaders, who have unveiled an urgent action plan for the next education secretary's first 100 days in power.

Recommendations include a moratorium on any further changes to Ofsted, and a move towards "re-engineering" the accountability system by scrapping inspections and introducing "peer review" as the basis for quality assurance of schools.

The manifesto further demands an immediate review of teachers' pay and conditions, and the creation of a national fund to attract the best teachers and school leaders to the most deprived areas of the country. The group also wants all schools to be given the freedoms currently enjoyed by academies and free schools, as well as a "clear, open and transparent" set of competition rules around the opening of new schools.

Robert Campbell, principal of Impington Village College in Cambridgeshire and a roundtable member, said that reforming school accountability must be the next government's priority.

"There isn't a single head who doesn't care about improving their school for students and parents. But I've lost count of the different [Ofsted] frameworks we have been through. There is so much change that it no longer makes sense," he said.

Mr Campbell added: "People are deeply connected to their schools and passionate about their work, and they want to be able to carry that forward into a landscape that is stable and settled."

The manifesto also calls for the post-7 May government to give "strong support" to a National Baccalaureate - a new certificate for school-leavers that would give equal weight to vocational and academic qualifications.

It is thought that political parties will not publish their manifestos until at least April, but the proposals put forward by the Headteachers' Roundtable chime with announcements already made by Labour. The party has said it wants to introduce a National Baccalaureate and has made vocational and technical education a cornerstone of its policies.

The two organisations disagree on inspections, however, with Labour leader Ed Miliband stating last month that he had no intention of abolishing Ofsted, adding that he saw inspections as "really fundamental" to a good school system.

John Tomsett, chair of the Headteachers' Roundtable, said the manifesto had been handed to ministers in the Department for Education, as well as Labour's education team, in a bid to influence policy formation ahead of the election.

"I've been really pleased with the response from civil servants and I have placed a copy of the manifesto into [shadow education secretary] Tristram Hunt's hands," Mr Tomsett said.

"It's all about keeping them aware of it. If a minister thinks they need something on performance development, professional development or supporting leadership, they can turn to this paper. We have some traction now in terms of influence and we are trying to keep this subliminal drip-feed into the debate."

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the manifesto matched his union's "blueprint" for a more sophisticated accountability regime.

"We agree Ofsted inspections need to be reformed, and something needs to be done about the constant changes to its framework as schools are repeatedly asked to follow new requirements," Mr Lightman said.

"We have made it absolutely clear that what we need is for government to take a step back by taking a more strategic role and creating the conditions to allow our profession to function in the best possible way."

On the roundtable: policy proposals

  • Introduce entitlement to a professional development programme leading to qualified teacher status for all teachers after a maximum of two years' induction, and a master's-level qualification after five years.
  • Implement a blueprint for the College of Teaching.
  • Introduce a National Baccalaureate framework following the Headteachers' Roundtable model.
  • Bring in "progressive" qualifications in English and maths to allow for ongoing study to age 18.
  • Implement an intelligent inspection framework based on peer review.
  • Stabilise performance measures.
  • Apply academy freedoms across all maintained schools.
  • Develop a national support strategy for parents with children up to the age of 5.
  • Establish a national recruitment fund.

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