Dear Mr Hunt,
Having read your speech at the North of England Education conference, listened to the range of news reports in relation to the proposals, read a sample of related newspaper reports and a number of blogs written by colleagues including Estelle Morris as well as current practitioners, I am now putting pen to paper to add my own thoughts.
I am writing this from the perspective of a headteacher who is privileged to lead (using some of the words in your speech) a highly qualified, inspiring, self-motivated and dedicated professional workforce in a Manchester special school, judged outstanding by Ofsted in May 2010 and June 2013. The need for me to give that as a context is not to self – glorify but rather to set the scene for some of the points I wish to make. Please bear with me whilst I attempt to illustrate.
I would be one of the first to acknowledge that quality assurance, including having an external view, is a valuable part of a self- improving school system and indeed have been proactive in establishing a range of collaborative relationships to both challenge and support the work in school. For this reason, having an appraisal system applied to all staff which is linked to CPD is something I welcome. On a wider scale therefore, the need to evaluate and review the overall school system and use the knowledge and experience of others, including school systems from overseas is not in itself a negative concept.
To return to the context of my role in my own school however, as a head teacher, I have been charged with implementation of the plethora of changes of policy and procedures relating to teacher performance including the most recently those afforded by the revised teacher standards, appraisal and performance related pay. I believe that I operate with emotional intelligence and endeavour to implement any such changes in a way that has the needs of the children at the heart but also takes into account the needs of the staff, however, even in my own school which is perceived to be doing ok, I have witnessed and experienced the negative impact afforded by some of the underlying messages from government and the expectations of the revised policies and procedures on the morale of many of the teachers. The thought therefore of considering implementation of a re-licensing scheme is not one which fills me with great joy and am sure is equally not eliciting great whoops of joy from the teachers!
I am pleased you acknowledged in your speech that we have one of the best generations of teachers (and headteachers) this country has ever seen and that you also note that teaching is not just about imparting knowledge, ‘that success can depend as much upon what you do with what you know, as what you know’ and that in turn requires us to ensure we offer our children ‘a rich experience at school’. Indeed, having the opportunities to be creative with the curriculum and give our children and young people the skills for modern life is something which I cannot imagine anyone disagreeing with. I do think though the wider knowledge, skills, roles and responsibilities of teachers also should be noted, that is, supporting children and their families with a whole range of issues not directly linked to, but which considerably impacts on their learning. An example of this sadly would be the all too frequent facing of significant safeguarding issues. Outcomes in such areas cannot be measured in league tables or I would imagine be a category of qualification for re-licensing!
As a leader who always wants to strive to achieve more for our children and community ( ask my staff who maybe got a few days respite after our last inspection before we dusted ourselves off and moved on to next steps!), I am not suggesting for a single minute we should not as a profession be held to account, however, I would hate to see the essence of what I feel is a valid and right approach to continuing to build on the strengths of the current teaching profession be hijacked by an additional and unnecessarily over bureaucratic system which would have the potential to damage rather than develop the very group of people it is intended to serve. As Estelle Morris says in her article in the Guardian (28.1.14) with regards to teacher accountability, ‘there are already enough weapons in the armoury without inventing another one’.
If these proposals are true to their word, all about quality of teaching, then what the profession needs now is encouraging and feeding. We already have the ‘stick’ in the form of Ofsted and Performance Related Pay. It is time perhaps to redress the balance of the ‘carrot’ a little more with an entitlement on behalf of the profession to quality continuing professional development?
I endorse your solution statement to needing ‘an education system which delivers for all learners from all parts of the country’ and certainly as an advocate of children with special educational needs, make it my business to achieve that for all of the children in my own school and as system leader and Local Leader of Education, make it my business to contribute to achieving that for children in the wider community. There is a real opportunity here to do something very positive for our schools and for the profession as a whole. You have school leaders like myself ready and willing to take that challenge so I hope that you take some time to listen to, talk to and reflect on the views of those of us out here ‘doing the day job’ and then we can work together to get it right for everyone.
With sincere good wishes
Camberwell Park Specialist Support School