Alex Galvin, Senior Education Lead, asks the question: ‘What would you do if you were the Secretary of State for Education?’. Find out what school leaders and the team at SSAT would put on their priority list.
There has been much discussion in the network and nationally about the decision to award a knighthood to Gavin Williamson, the former Secretary of State for Education. I think it is fair to say that he is unlikely to be remembered as one of the most effective incumbents of that position.
Following these discussions, we thought it would be interesting to hear what school leaders in our network and the team at SSAT would prioritise if they were given that role. There was a fair degree of consistency among the views expressed. Here are some of the key ideas:
- Time Too many talented teachers and school leaders leave the profession because they find the work load overwhelming. Investment in schools would enable school leaders to give colleagues more non-contact time, allowing more time for planning within the working day.
- Money There has been a long-standing issue with teacher recruitment. Increasing teacher salaries, along with reducing workload (see above) would go some way towards making the profession more appealing.
- Mental health Many respondents expressed serious concerns about the mental health of pupils and teachers, issues which have been exacerbated by the experiences of the last couple of years. Students and staff have found the loss of their usual support networks and routines very challenging. As a result, many felt that significant investment in CAMH services is essential. There is an urgent need for additional support and expertise in tackling these issues. Funding for in-house mental health support would also be extremely beneficial.
- Accountability Often linked to the mental health of school leaders and teachers, there is a feeling that the culture in our education system needs to be reviewed, with accountability leading to stress more than solutions.
- Listen The answers to the questions and challenges in the system are all out there in the expertise of school leaders and teachers. It is extraordinary how ministers make key decisions without utilising the wealth of experience available.
Here are some examples of what members of our network would put on their priority list if they were made Secretary of State for Education.
- Mental health and wellbeing of staff.
- Accountability is fuelling the above – we need a serious review of the culture in our education system.
- Recruitment of support staff – impossible at the moment.
- Mental health of young people plus shocking lack of support – both externally (CAMHS in particular) and for school counsellors.
- Agencies – teaching and support staff – sucking the life and funding out of schools.
- SENDV and AP – there is a significant issue with the capacity to support students due to a serious lack of appropriate specialist provision and support for schools who are dealing with increasingly complex needs in mainstream settings. This is due to a lack of special school places, and particularly in more rural areas and smaller towns and cities a lack of high quality and affordable appropriate provision deliverers who can work with schools to put together support packages for individuals and small groups of students.
- The National Tutoring Programme has been complex and restrictive and is not delivering the support needed for students, focusing on schools working with local tutoring providers directly or working collaboratively to deliver rather than through the current system to support catch up.
- Embedding the use of technology gained through lockdown. We are in danger of slipping back to what we did before and not realising the benefits of students being able to access tutoring and lesson content from home. This can be a key part of the curriculum, but absolutely must not replace teaching by subject specialists. (I am concerned that I am hearing examples of schools and trusts coming out of Maths Hub training for staff and just delivering videos or online instruction in lessons, fine as part of the input but cannot replace high quality instruction and support from a subject specialist).
- A review of exams – consideration for a staged approach using online assessment – minimise retakes to ensure validity. The potential to use AI adaptive assessment online to assess students has huge potential in terms of both formative and summative assessment. It could make huge savings for schools in terms of invigilation, exam costs, postage, marking time. Plenty of evidence that this type of assessment can be as rigorous as written terminal exams if planned well.
- Further work on rationalising and clarifying the relationship between MATs and ESFA/DFE/RSC. It is still too complex and needs to add value rather than MATs feeling like they have to report to multiple agencies with limited insight or understanding.
- Listen to teachers and share what you hear so we know you have heard it!
- Time – increase PPA to address workload
- Respect work/life boundaries with announcements
- Celebrate teachers
- Bravery – bring diversity into the DfE, not just those who share current departmental ideology
- Meet the Teachers Standards – be a role model for children as teachers are
- Raise and challenge behaviour in Parliament, teachers (and Ofsted) would never accept that behaviour in a classroom
What would you do if you were in charge? Let us know what would be on your list.