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'Trust school leaders to deliver a new vision for education'

There was much to be welcomed in Damian Hinds' speech at the NAHT conference, writes the union's leader, Paul Whiteman

Paul Whiteman

There was much to be welcomed in Damian Hinds' speech at the NAHT conference, writes the union's leader, Paul Whiteman

You need look no further than the announcements made at NAHT’s conference by the secretary of state to see what can be achieved when there is a constructive atmosphere between policymakers and profession.

We were pleased to welcome Damian Hinds to our conference and pleased that he came with some proposals that we were able to welcome with a genuine sense that he understands the value of the work schools do, and the costs that every school has to absorb.

I take the secretary of state at his word when he says he wants to work with us. I thank him for that commitment. Bringing costs down is essential but we still have to make sure that we get the overall budget up.

In the meantime, we heard Mr Hinds say that he understands that the many demands placed on schools add up to higher costs. He also understands that schools are paying out for more things than they used to.

Activity in schools is often seen as an automatic way to solve a deep-seated issue in society, but it must be understood that schools cannot solve these problems on their own. Many of the sources of support that schools once relied on have been cut or now have to be brought in.

Mental health services, speech and language therapy and some social care services are examples of how schools are filling the gap in new ways. Pension and National Insurance contributions are adding to running costs. We would also like to see schools exempt from the apprenticeship levy. It’s a significant extra cost, with very little benefit available to schools.

We also heard today that there will be an end to the overbearing, confusing and unnecessary system of inspection that has seen so much duplication between the work of regional schools commissioners and Ofsted.

Accountability 'a key driver of workload'

It's absolutely right that there should only be one agency with the remit to inspect schools. Accountability is an essential part of our publicly funded education system but it is also one of the main drivers of workload. It is a big reason why many talented people leave, and often a limiting factor on the ambitions of schools. 

Clarity about the standards that are expected is just what we've been calling for.

Removing the coasting and floor standards will do much to address the confusion felt by many school leaders. It will be important that the new "support standard" is set at the right level and helps to direct rapid, high-quality, funded support to the schools that need it most. 

NAHT has a track record of working with the government on improvements to the system and we look forward to working with them to help define the detail behind these new proposals and to make sure that these joint ambitions are realised.

I don’t think that there’s a shared vision for what the education system should look like yet, or what it’s for, and that’s where we need to start.

And then school leaders need to be trusted to deliver it.

I’m encouraged by what Mr Hinds has said on this today. I’ll be urging my members not wait for his permission to create it - let’s start right now. And I’ll be saying to them, "Don’t you worry, while that’s happening, I’ll be right there, making sure he’s as good as his word."

Children don’t shout very loud (except perhaps when they’re in the classroom) and they don’t vote, so who is their advocate? The answer is simple. It’s school leaders, their teams and the communities they support.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to speak up for them.

In a year’s time, we will be leaving the EU. The children in the education system today are the generation that will ensure that the UK is a success in a post-Brexit world. I don’t envy them that task, frankly, so the least we can do is to provide them with the education and the support that they need now.

Paul Whiteman is general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union. He tweets @PaulWhiteman6

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