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Putting students at the centre

Sue Williamson, Chief Executive SSAT, writes…

I am very fortunate to visit many schools and to see some of the amazing work that is going on. There are so many outstanding, dedicated teachers, who are providing challenge, rigour and enjoyment for their students. Yet some headteachers are telling me that they are radically changing the curriculum next year, but in response to the new accountability measures, rather than to enhance the experience of their students.

Sadly, at least one headteacher has decided to resign because he no longer feels that he can do the right thing for his students.

In Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas’ Redesigning Schooling pamphlet – What kind of teaching for what kind of learning? – they list eight principles of school redesign. The first principle sums up the challenge school leaders face:

‘The role of schools, leaders, teachers and parents is, above all, to equip learners with the dispositions they need to thrive throughout their lives in an uncertain world. One of these specific capabilities, vital for only a short period of their lives, is the ability to achieve success in examination systems.’

As a former headteacher, I know the pressures that accountability measures add. It is frustrating to hear how often teaching and learning for the life-long dispositions Guy and Bill advocate is deprioritised in the quest for examination results.

I was asked to speak at ResearchEd on 03 May. It was heartening to meet the many enthusiastic teachers who attended my session, giving up their Saturday to better understand the school-based research that underpins the principles on which SSAT’s work on personalising learning and redesigning schooling is based.

SSAT believes that a single-minded focus on performance measures gets you so far. To be truly outstanding means having your own principled plan based on what you know is right for your students. It means subjecting that plan to constant challenge and innovation. We believe that outstanding schools concentrate on one overriding goal: ensuring students can fulfil their potential in an increasingly complex world.

School leaders need to engage with all their stakeholders to agree the criteria by which they are judged. As a profession we must have the confidence to speak up from the basis of knowledge to do what is right for the young people in our care.

The SSAT National Conference 2014, 4-5 December in Manchester, is all about helping you do this. It zooms in on the outcomes and experience of every individual learner within a wider self-improving system of self-improving schools.

It will combine inspirational inputs from schools and students with thought-provoking perspectives from employers and leading academics, to explore how we can shift our focus towards delivering a personalised, future-orientated education for every student. Throughout the conference, students themselves will provide dynamic contributions to inspire your plans for your future-orientated school.

We have just opened bookings and workshop applications. I hope all the SSAT members who share my vision for an education system that puts students at the centre will contribute their bold, innovative thinking and apply to present.

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