Damian Hinds’s educational vision

17 Aug

Damian Hinds described the direction in which he will steer the future education of the children in our country. He proposes expanding opportunities for young people by loosening the reins of accountability on schools and academies and giving teachers greater opportunities to grow and develop professionally.

I        National Association of Headteachers’ Conference

When addressing a conference of the National Association of Headteachers on 4 May 2018 in Liverpool, he told delegates: “Accountability is vital. Children only get one shot at an education and we owe them the best…where they are being let down we need to take action quickly – so no one ends up left behind.

“But what I’ve found from speaking to many of you these last few months is that there is also real confusion within the sector… I believe school leaders need complete clarity on how the accountability system will operate.

“I’m clear that Ofsted is the body that can provide an independent, rounded judgement of a school’s performance.

“This means we will not be forcibly turning schools into academies unless Ofsted has judged them to be inadequate.  I believe strongly that becoming an academy can bring enormous benefits to schools. Hundreds of schools every year voluntarily choose to become academies and I want this to be a positive choice for more and more schools as we move forward.

“We must also have a system that does more than just deal with failure… But we will do so in the right way, and there will be a single, transparent data trigger for schools to be offered support – which we will consult on.  I intend this to replace the current confusing system of having both below the floor and coasting standards for performance…

“I have a clear message to schools and their leaders: I trust you to get on with the job.”

Mr Hinds recognised that those involved in education knew about the “what” that was needed to secure excellent provision for our children.  However, there continued to be dissonance on the “how” of achieving those objectives.  While schools and academies – like all other publicly funded institutions – were accountable to the taxpayers, there was “confusion within the sector” on the multiple accountabilities to which school leaders and teachers were subjected.

He said that Ofsted (and only Ofsted) would be the body that would provide independent, rounded judgements on the performances of schools and academies.  He wanted schools – including those that required improvement – to be free to make their own decisions, and if they wished to go down the academy route, he thought the choice should be a positive one rather than one stemming from compulsion.  Schools that are struggling will, in the first instance, be offered support before being shanghaied into another academisation.

He recognised that the system of having below the floor and coasting standards for performance needed to be replaced by something that was simpler and coherent.  To this end, he would be working.  What was encouraging was his statement: “I have a clear message to schools and their leaders: I trust you to get on with the job.”

To retain good, experienced teachers in England, he stated that they would be offered up to a year’s paid sabbatical after 10 years’ services.   For this purpose, he has set £5 million aside.   It is more likely that a teacher will receive a term’s sabbatical, albeit occasionally, she/he could be offered a year off to study or spend time working in an industry relevant to her/his field.

Newly qualified teachers (NQTs) will have their probationary period lengthened from a year to two years.  “We will be introducing an enhanced offer of support for new teachers, including extending the induction period to two years,” he said, “and we will work with the profession to develop a new early career content framework that will set out all the training and mentoring a teacher is entitled to receive in those first years.”

Mr Hinds has recognised that the profession is haemorrhaging teachers at a very unhealthy rate.   He remarked: “We have a shared goal of making sure teaching remains an attractive, fulfilling profession.  We will take an unflinching look at the things that discourage people from going into teaching or make them consider leaving and we will look at how we support teachers to get better at what they do and hone their expertise and career progression.”

Mr Hinds will create an advisory, working group with the teacher unions to help develop the strategy of the Department for Education.  Among other things, this working group will address teachers’ workload and how it can be eased for them without negatively affecting the quality of education, the progress that children make and the standards they achieve.  He acknowledged that unacceptable burdens were placed on teachers by the policies they set on marking and the data that they were directed to garner and maintain.   He hinted that governors and headteachers were responsible but they in turn passed on the pressures from central bodies such as inspectors, Regional School Commissioners (RSCs) and the DfE itself to the front-line workers – teachers and teaching assistants.

He said that standards in the classrooms were higher than ever.  Altogether, 89% of schools and academies had been judged Good or Outstanding by Ofsted.   This should give us cause to be optimistic.

II       Hindsight at the National Governors’ Association Conference

Speaking at the National Governors’ Association in early June 2018, Mr Hinds touched on four compelling matters.

(a)        Chief Executives’ and Headteachers’ Salaries

First, he said that he wanted Multi-Academy Trusts to “bear down” on excessive salaries for chief executives and headteachers.  However, there was no mention of the DfE setting any framework for what was reasonable except that academy accounts would have to detail any salary of over £100,000 which the DfE would challenge publicly.  Where leaders were being paid more than £100k, he will want to know the percentage of teaching times these individuals undertake.

(b)       Party transactions of relatives

Second, MATs would be required to give detailed accounts on related-party transactions.   This is where an academy trust pays for goods and/or services from a company linked to a governor or trustee – whether directly or through a family member.  From April 2019, trusts would be required to seek approval of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) for any related-party transactions more than £20,000.  Those sums of under £20,000 would still have to be declared.

(c)        Assessing the performance of a Multi-Academy Trust

Mr Hinds intends to establish a new system for assessing whether a MAT should take on new schools and/or academies.  Currently, this is based on a MAT’s ranking on the performance table, the outcome of an Ofsted inspection and financial data.   Also, Regional School Commissioners (RSCs) have criteria for determining whether or not a MAT can expand.  Mr Hinds conceded that these mechanisms have limitations, though he did not spell out what criteria or system would be deployed.

He promised that whatever initiative was taken it would not add to the workload of governors and teachers. He declared that he would consult MATs and school and academy leaders before going native with it.  Further, this would be in addition to the principles for a ‘clear and simple’ new accountability system which the DfE published in May 2018.

(d)       Support for governors

Finally, but by no means the least important, he promised more funding for governor and trustee training – double the amount currently available – i.e. up to £6 million.   Additionally, he said that there would be better guidance for governors, trustees and clerks. Allied to these carrots was a stick, i.e. that where a MAT was providing weak governance, he would act against it.

Notwithstanding, Mr Hinds praised the work of governors and trustees and thanked them for it.  He appealed to people from different ethnic and cultural groups and professionals from varied walks of working life, as well as young people to become governors and trustees.  He asked employers to encourage staff become governors by giving them “time to do so” as the BBC and HSBC do.  This last message was warmly applauded by the delegates.

Commentary

Mr Hinds’s speeches were welcomed by headteachers, teachers, the unions and governors.   However, the biggest fear was that many of his proposals to recruit and retain good teachers, who are in the frontline of the provision we make for our children, could perish on the financial treadmill.

Geoff Barton, the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “It is vital these proposals are properly funded by the government and that they do not end up becoming yet another additional unfunded cost on schools.

“We urge the Treasury to ensure there is sufficient funding in place to deliver these plans. This issue is too important to be allowed to founder on the rocks of austerity.”

Schools and academies are facing a shortfall of 30,000 classroom teachers.   Primary schools are better placed than secondary ones.  In a survey carried out by the National Education Union (NEU) earlier in the summer survey, 80% of classroom teachers said that they had considered quitting the profession because of their workload.  The promised sabbaticals for experienced teachers could well be one way of stemming the rot.  Schools and academies could also engage in more flexible working practices through part-time work and job-shares.

The proposals were welcomed by National Association of Head Teachers General Secretary, Paul Whiteman, who said: “Accountability is an essential part of our publicly-funded education system; but it is also one of the main drivers of workload.”

The professional reaction to Mr Hinds’s speech – in broad terms – was one of welcome and relief.  It is likely that he will be given the time and space by the government – because of its preoccupations with Brexit – to get on with the job.

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