Association of School and College Leaders

Annual Conference Speech, March 2008


It’s a great privilege to be here making my first speech to ASCL’s annual conference.

And as your theme is “leading professionals”, let me start by also thanking your leading professional – your General Secretary, John Dunford.

Like my predecessors, I have hugely valued the guidance and advice he has provided:

– from our first meeting, when I asked John if he could arrange for me to experience a day with a top head in a challenging school – and he rang back the next day to say it had all been organised;

– during the preparation and publication of our Children’s Plan – throughout which he was deeply involved and always challenging but constructive;

– to your annual conference today, where we have just spent an hour and a half talking with a group of you about the challenges you face as we take forward our Children’s Plan and how we can best support you to meet them.

But don’t worry – he has never been a soft touch. He has always been:

– driven – by a moral purpose – to help every child to fulfil their potential;

– challenging – warning me about overloading you, asking us to reduce burdens where we can and using the test of whether it improves outcomes for children and young people to justify every decision;

– intolerant of lazy thinking – rejecting the false choice between school standards and every child matters; or between autonomy and strong leadership for our outstanding schools and these schools playing a wider role in the school system and their communities;

– and he has never been slow to criticise us when we don’t get it right – though we will have to agree to disagree about the benefits of compulsory cookery lessons.

This is why I know his leadership is so important to you.

And it is why he is such a pivotal member of the Social Partnership – demanding that all of us, including my Department, ensure we change to meet the challenges of the Children’s Plan agenda.

I know it can be dangerous to place too much faith in the experience of one visit to one school, but that first visit that John arranged for me back in June was for me very revealing.

Arriving unannounced at 7.45 in the morning for the leadership team meeting and sitting quietly in the corner for the staff meeting, I saw then and in the lessons I sat in on throughout the day:

– what it feels like to have an old and decaying building when you are in a later wave in the Building Schools for the Future programme and others around you are being rebuilt – including how difficult it can be to get kids to eat healthy food when the dining facilities aren’t up to scratch;

– how bad behaviour in class disrupts learning and what a huge challenge it can be when a third of children have special educational needs;

– how schools can intervene early to prevent problems – but how frustrating it can be when other children’s services aren’t there when you need them;

– but also how intensive personalised teaching and learning and pupil-tracking can transform results;

– the benefits of engaging with parents on every aspect of their child’s education, from uniform policy to helping with homework;

– and above all, how strong leadership in a school can transform the life chances of children and young people.

Over the past nine months, these messages have been reinforced time and time again whenever I have met with any of you and visited your schools and colleges.

And these and other concerns were echoed loudly by parents, head teachers, children’s professionals and by children and young people themselves during our Children’s Plan consultation and in the work of our expert groups.

And our Children’s Plan ambitions:

– to help you unlock the talents and promote the health and happiness of all children, and not just some;

– to back parents as they meet their responsibilities to bring up their children;

– and to build a culture of prevention and early intervention in which everyone – parents, schools and colleges, health workers, social services, youth offending teams and housing officers – all take their responsibilities seriously so that no child or young person is left to fall behind;

are all based squarely on the experiences and insight of school and college leaders across the country.

Because underpinning our Children’s Plan vision – based as I have said on what I have seen and what John and many of you have told me – is what I believe are the characteristics of a successful 21st century school – the kind of schools and colleges that many of you lead or aspire to lead with:

a world class workforce with great teachers and a premium on great teaching that inspires every pupils every day;

a curriculum that engages and motivates every child;

iii. the right balance between autonomy and strong leadership on the one hand, and the school playing its proper collaborative role in the wider school system and local community;

parents fully involved in their child’s learning

your schools and colleges part of excellent, integrated services for children and families that put their needs first;

and above all, strong leadership to see this vision through.

While we might not always agree on all the details, I believe that is a vision of the 21st century school that we can all share.

And today I want to talk about what we are doing to support you in each of these areas.

First, as you know, the foundation of school achievement is excellent teaching by excellent teachers.

We already have a high quality school workforce that has made huge progress.

But we need to set our ambitions even higher to deliver the very best for our children and keep pace with the best performing education systems around the world.

So today we’re setting out our plans to help the school workforce be the best for our children.

By recruiting more of the most talented people into the school workforce through Teach First and our new Transition to Teaching programme – which which could recruit hundreds of extra teachers with strong science, technology and engineering backgrounds from industry every year.

By making sure we can maintain and promote quality and allow our best teachers and leaders to make a difference where they’re needed most through redesigning the NPQH qualification to meet the needs of leading the 21st century school and enhancing the role of school business managers and directors.

And by investing in skills to unlock the talent of the school workforce.

In the Children’s Plan, we committed to making teaching a Masters level profession to raise the status of teaching to the next level.

And today I am publishing ‘Being the Best for our Children’ to set out the next steps:

We will introduce a new Masters qualification specially designed for teachers – the Masters in Teaching and Learning.

We want it to be open to all teachers and expect every teacher to complete it over the course of their careers.

iii. We will begin by rolling out the programme mainly to teachers in the first five years of their careers to build on their initial teacher training and induction.

We will look at how experienced teachers can coach other teachers and have this recognised as part of their own Masters programme.

We envisage funding participation in the programme through the TDA – including the costs to schools. We will also explore whether we can further incentivise take-up in those schools facing the most challenging circumstances.

I have asked the TDA to work with ASCL and all the social partners with a view to making the new qualification available to some of the new entrants starting their initial teacher training in September – and to other new entrants as soon as possible afterwards.

Second, we need a curriculum and qualifications that engage and motivate every child and young person.

We have made real progress in raising standards over the past decade.

But too many children are still failing to fulfil their potential and leaving school without good qualifications.

And too often, it’s the poorest children who achieve least.

So we need to make sure that every school follows the example of the best schools by focussing on the progress of each child and young person – and tailor teaching around the child’s needs.

We are backing this ambition with proper funding for personalised learning – an additional £1.75billion investment.

And we will look closely at our progression pilots – with ‘stage not age’ tests replacing Key Stage tests at 11 and 14 if the current trials prove successful.

But if we are to fully recognise the talents of every young person and equip every young person with the higher level skills they need to succeed in the global economy, we must also make fundamental changes to 14-19 education – just as I know you have been calling for.

I believe diplomas are a once in a generation opportunity for our country – as the paper you are publishing today sets out.

I was very pleased to see the strong support from ASCL last October when I announced our intention to introduce a further three Diplomas in Science, Humanities and Languages in 2011.

And I know many of you have concerns about the details and logistics of the Diplomas programme. We are already doing a lot to address many of those concerns – and we will study all the points raised in today’s paper and respond to them in detail.

This is a new way of learning for us all. And at the beginning, anything that’s new is always challenging. But I am determined to get it right and will work closely with you to make sure we do over the next few years.

And I am very encouraged by the significant support the first five Diplomas have attracted over the last year:

– Over 500 employers helped us to design the first five Diplomas – including household names like Vodafone, Microsoft and Rolls Royce.

– Leading universities have signalled they will accept Diploma students onto the most rigorous courses – with UCAS deciding that the Advanced Diploma will have the equivalent value of three and a half A-Levels, the Cambridge University Admissions Tutor stating his belief that the Engineering Diploma could be better preparation for an Engineering Degree than a Maths A-Level.

– And over 800 schools and over 150 colleges in consortia offering the first five Diplomas from September. Two thirds of all secondary schools and three quarters of colleges in England have applied to offer Diplomas from September 2009.

It is because of this support that we can now raise our ambitions even higher.

Today I can announce that I am accepting the advice of the Expert Advisory Group on Diplomas, on which ASCL is represented, and introducing a new Extended Diploma to recognise and reward a larger range of achievement by all students.

It will be available across all 17 Diplomas lines from 2011.

iii. It will also be available at every level – equivalent to 4.5 A Levels at the Advanced level, 9 GCSEs at the Higher level and 7 GCSEs at the Foundation level.

As is the case now, students taking an Extended Diploma will be able to take existing qualifications such as GCSEs and A-Levels within their Diploma programme.

And together with strengthened GCSEs and A levels, an expanded Apprenticeships programme and the Foundation Learning Tier Progression Pathways, they will ensure there is a route to success for every young person.

But it is also vital that we have not only a more comprehensive, but also a more simple and coherent qualification system for young people.

So, based on the advice of the Expert Advisory Group, we will shortly be publishing a Strategy for 14-19 Qualifications that sets out how we expect to simplify and reform the qualification offer.

Third, we have to get the right balance between autonomy and strong leadership on the one hand, and schools playing their proper collaborative role in the school system and their local communities.

School inspections and just seeing what’s happening down the road can all be powerful spurs to improvement.

I’m all for this kind of healthy competition between excellent schools.

But it cannot be the only lever for improvement because it doesn’t bring results quickly enough for the children in that school – and we are failing them if we stand back and wait for things to change.

Where one school is doing well and nearby schools are struggling, that is not real choice for parents.

Parents want every local school to be a good school.

That is the only long-term route to truly fair admissions.

And we can only get there if excellent schools and colleges collaborate with weaker schools and colleges in their local areas – whether that’s through mentoring, partnerships, Trusts and federations or Academies.

Many of you are already achieving more through collaboration:

– giving your teachers new opportunities to develop your skills through shared professional development

– sharing best practice and spreading excellence, including through behaviour partnerships

– and increasingly working together on the 14-19 curriculum.

Many schools and colleges already benefit from partnerships with external partners, local universities, further education colleges, employers and businesses.

Such partnerships bring fresh thinking, greater challenge and different expertise.

I want this to be the norm, with every secondary school having business and university partners – and every secondary school a specialist school, trust schools or an academy.

And over the last 10 years, you have reduced the number of schools failing to achieve at least 30% of pupils getting five good GCSEs from 1600 to 638.

Over the next five years, we want to lift all schools above that 30 per cent threshold.

That is our National Challenge.

I know that some of you are from schools currently below that threshold but are doing outstanding jobs in difficult circumstances.

Many are already on the right track already for success.

And we will back head teachers delivering rising results.

But where schools are letting children down year after year we will act – and we will expect local authorities to use the new powers available to them to tackle failure and drive up standards.

Sometimes this will mean good schools collaborating or merging with weaker ones.

Sometimes this will mean innovative new types of school, like the first ever Co-operative Trust school in Reddish, or the first parent-promoted school in Lambeth.

And it will also mean local government in every part of the country backing and promoting Academies in its role as the local commissioners of education.

Learning from the success of the London Challenge and building on the models now being rolled out in the Black Country and in Manchester, we want a plan to be put in place for every one of the 638 schools by the Summer – and will produce a national strategy before then.

Last night, I was at a reception for the National Leaders in Education.

It’s an excellent example of how leading professionals can reach outside their own institutions, pairing up a supporting school with one that needs support, and driving up standards in both.

And today I can announce we will extend that support from 120 schools today to 500 schools over the next five years.

So that in secondary schools, we can go from 50 National Leaders today to around 200.

With the best helping the rest, including many of the 638 schools that make up our National Challenge.

Fourth, you know that collaboration is not just about working with other schools and colleges, but also with parents and your local communities.

Because children are only at school or college for around 14% of their time – and that building a stronger partnership with parents is not only the best way to tackle all the barriers to learning, but part and parcel of improving achievement for every child.

For every school teacher who has told me how hard it can sometimes be to engage parents in school and their child’s learning.

I have also spoken to a parent who has told me how difficult they find it to engage with their child’s school, especially once their child has left primary school.

But many of you are successfully reaching out, involving and listening to parents – and I want every school to learn from you, including by making sure every parent gets up-to-date information about their child’s progress, attendance and behaviour using ‘real time’ reporting and new technologies such as mobile phones or the internet.

And fifth, and as well as parents, while some of you will have good relationships with your local health services, youth centres, police stations and sports facilities, others have also felt it’s more difficult than it should be to maintain reliable relationships and get specialist help when you need it.

I am committed to ensuring that you get that support – and to ensuring that it doesn’t just happen where leading professionals make it happen despite the barriers they face, but is the norm.

In some areas – such as safeguarding – we have made real progress.

But a child is still at risk of underachieving at school because they need a prompt referral from CAMHS, or because they have trouble at home that’s preventing them doing their homework. So we need to do better there as well.

And I want to see more effective local arrangements that provide early identification and early intervention for those children and young people who need additional help.

Let me be clear, none of this is about turning teachers into social workers or housing officers.

Nor is it about piling up additional responsibilities on schools without making it easier for them to get the help they need.

But it is about schools building stronger partnerships with other services – often co-located – and being confident they can call on them when needed.

And it’s also about all our leading professionals in schools and colleges, in early years settings, in children’s centres and in Children’s Trusts being accountable for what they do.

And the Directors of Children’s Services, Lead Members for Children and all the relevant local agencies that form the Children’s Trusts must form stronger relationships with all schools – both in day-to-day working but also in discussions when priorities are being agreed and services are being commissioned.

John has impressed upon me many times the need for an intelligent system of accountability for schools.

I am committed to this – and more broadly to an intelligent system of accountability for all children’s services – so that you as leaders of schools and colleges know you can call on the support you need to tackle all the barriers to learning and hold them to account if they fail to deliver.

In the end, of course, this is all about strong leadership – in schools and colleges and across local services too.

I know you all have an absolute commitment to leading your schools and colleges to reach the ever higher standards of education that will achieve our ambitions for every child.

And I know you would agree that we should settle for nothing less.

But there are only so many hours in the day – although at times I know you too wish there were more.

You are only human – although I know you feel at times that we ask you to be more than that.

And you carry a heavy burden on your shoulders – because your job is not just about opportunities for individual children but about preparing the next generations for success.

The future of our country truly rests in your hands.

Only this week, I had dinner with a group of head teachers. And I heard their frustrations at:

– how too often housing departments don’t call back when a problem arises on a Friday afternoon;

– how social services persist in trying to contact teachers during lesson-time;

– and how CAMHS services are sometimes just not responsive enough.

Yet what still shone through was their leadership of these Heads – their dedication to help other schools improve, their professionalism to make things work however difficult and their passion to help every child fulfil their potential.

That is why you are here.

And we will do everything we can to support you.

Because with a more engaging curriculum, with a transformed school estate through Building Schools for the Future.

and with every young person in education, training or an apprenticeship to 18.

What an opportunity we have.

Hosting the Olympics here in Britain in 2012 – inspiring a whole generation of young people to believe in themselves and our country.

What an opportunity.

And what a great responsibility too.

But I know you will take on these responsibilities with determination and seize these opportunities with passion.

And together, I believe we can achieve our ambition and make our country the best place in the world for children to grow up.

Thank you.