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Some Suggestions For Justine Greening’s ‘To Do’ List…

With Justine Greening now settled in at the Department for Education, Vic Goddard puts forward some suggestions for the tasks she ought to prioritise...

  • Some Suggestions For Justine Greening’s ‘To Do’ List…

New term, new timetable, new students and, of course, a (relatively) new Secretary of State for Education. I’m sure I’m not alone in having lately spent some time contemplating what I need to do over the next few weeks and months. Justine Greening MP is no doubt doing exactly the same thing. I wonder what makes it onto her list?...

I think it’s important to state that I don’t agree with people who say we should remove politicians from decisions about education policy. We are kidding ourselves if we think that any government, of any persuasion, is not going to want guide what the young people in education are receiving. There are very few things that all of us have a strong opinion on, but education seems to be one of them.

That said, the times when I struggle most are when ‘party politics’ appear to have more influence over government decisions on education than doing what is right for the majority of our young people. The first thing I’d like to see on our Secretary of State’s ‘to do’ list is therefore…

Make sure that decisions are based on the best, most reliable research and evidence available.

We have come so far in many schools by using the work of John Hattie, Robert Coe, the EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit and more to ensure that we’re not just chasing the latest educational trend – I simply hope that Ms Greening follows that lead. The influence of one or two strong characters (looking at you, Messrs Gibb and Nash) must not supersede what evidence and educational experience clearly demonstrates.

Hire purpose

When I think about my biggest challenges as a classroom teacher, I keep coming back to how much my own confidence has been affected by major changes in curriculum content and assessment. If I’m not able to feel confident about what exactly is a C (or grade 4 or 5), how can I best support and challenge my students? With education being constant, any change is going to need to be done ‘on the job’ – but we really should have enough time to best prepare ourselves to do the best job we can.

So, next on the SoS’s list is hopefully…

Ensure that any curriculum or assessment changes are kept to a minimum – but if needed, that teachers be given all the necessary information in enough time to properly prepare.

As a headteacher, the greatest struggles I’m facing relate to the recruitment of high quality staff, and funding. What has frustrated me most have been the constant denials regarding these issues from the DfE. I’m sure that the figures being quoted are accurate from a statistical viewpoint – but they seem far from realistic here at the chalkface.

If we have managed to recruit 10,000 more teachers this year than last, but continue to need 100,000 then we still have a problem. This is compounded by the type of community a school serves and the subject staff required. The major issue with an increasingly school-driven system for initial teacher training is that we don’t have the capacity to meet the needs on our own.

Another point on the list should therefore be…

Work with ALL providers of ITT to draw up and implement a cohesive plan to meet the recruitment challenge.

Real responsibility

I’m sure we’ve all heard the government tell everyone that we’ve been given the sum funding income as last year (#flatcash). However, when the same people who gave us that money ask for more of it back, that is a cut in what we have to spend on our young people – it’s not a difficult sum to understand (#lessmoney).

Our voting population elected a government with austerity measures as a central economic policy – so why not be honest and just say that there’s less money in all government departments, and that schools will have to tighten their belts too? If this is the harsh reality of the choice that democracy delivered, then some honesty would be greatly appreciated – but really, we need some help. You might want to add this to your list…

Assist school leaders in meeting the new financial challenges by providing clear and appropriate advice, training and support, whilst challenging the Chancellor of the Exchequer to increase the funding available.

Where’s the accountability?

Ofsted has made some major improvements over the last couple of years, but still has a way to go in many areas. I don’t know any school leader that doesn’t feel that we need a way of being held accountable, but we all want intelligent accountability; a system that is forward, rather than backward-looking.

It’s also now impossible to define the role of the Regional School Commissioners in relation to accountability structures, due to the academisation agenda. Who is focused on our most vulnerable young people? Who will hold school leaders and academy chains to account for their behaviour towards families that don’t tick the EBacc, 100% attendance, ‘completely compliant’ boxes?

Some of the things I have seen and heard are truly awful. And despite many people in authority knowing what’s going on, the situation is getting worse. So the final job I’d like to see on Justine Greening’s list is…

‘Ensure that the whole accountability structure puts the future education of the WHOLE community as the prime objective, with ALL schools expected to support the most vulnerable.’

Because, as the words outside my office put it, “I didn’t say it was going to be easy, but I did say it would be worth it”.

Vic Goddard is headteacher at Passmores Academy, as seen on Channel 4’s Educating Essex, and is the author of The Best Job in the World; you can follow him at @vicgoddard

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