In mid-July, we were pleased to welcome Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT. Russell came in to talk to us about the NAHT manifesto for education, and to take questions from our team.
Russell stressed that the manifesto is not intended as a list of demands. Instead, NAHT’s focus is on education professionals taking ownership, and properly engaging with reform. School leaders are facing a level of change that’s perhaps unprecedented. In the autumn term alone, they’ll be expected to manage the introduction of the new National Curriculum, adopt new assessment arrangements, implement universal free school meals for infants, and oversee the first round of performance-related pay reviews in maintained schools.
One thing that struck me was Russell’s response to a question on whether structural changes, such as the shift to academy status, really improve standards. For Russell, structural change is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Changes to the school system are politically convenient as they can be centrally controlled, and some outcomes can be easily measured. For example, we can measure the rate at which academies or free schools open. Drawing together evidence could help us substantiate arguments about the effects of changes of this kind.
Russell’s comments got me thinking about how we measure progress across the school system. Regardless of how a school is constituted, what really matters is the quality of teaching in the classroom. And school leaders are in a unique position to influence this, especially now that so much teacher training is happening in schools.
Perhaps the challenge is to develop a school system that’s more focused on enabling school leaders to raise standards in their schools and beyond. For me, stable, sustainable structures should support education, not define it.