SSAT response to the speeches of Gillian Keegan MP and Sir Martyn Oliver at the ASCL conference, Friday 8 March 2024

We watched the speeches of Gillian Keegan, Secretary of State for Education, and Sir Martyn Oliver, Ofsted’s new Chief Inspector, at the ASCL 2024 conference with interest.

We know from all of the schools that we work with, that school leaders are facing unprecedented challenges in many areas. At a time when teachers are seeing increasingly complex challenges for pupils and facing an acute recruitment and retention crisis, it is essential that our teachers and school leaders are supported and championed.

As such, we were glad to see Sir Martyn Oliver, stress his commitment to working in partnership with school leaders and stating his determination to ensure that Ofsted carry out their responsibilities without creating undue stress.

Accountability is important; every young person deserves a high-quality experience of school. However, to achieve this, we need the very best people working in and leading our schools – our inspection framework needs to enable and support, not drive talented people out.

Sir Martyn said that Ofsted is an organisation “filled with talented and committed people.” This may or may not resonate with people’s experiences of the inspectorate, but it is undeniably true that the teaching profession is full of exceptionally talented and committed people – people who choose to do a job which is frequently challenging in order to make a difference to the lives of young people.

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We hope that Sir Martyn’s commitment to working in partnership and taking a more nuanced view of context will ensure that the inspection process can refocus on a professional dialogue with teachers and school leaders, around a shared commitment to continuous improvement.

Sir Martyn is right that a commitment to supporting disadvantaged pupils needs to be at the heart of the education system. This is something we have consistently championed through our Deep Social Justice campaign. The causes of educational underperformance are complex; many of the issues which affect disadvantaged and vulnerable children from their earliest days in the school system cannot be resolved by school leaders. We welcome Sir Martyn’s commitment to taking a broader view of the system and working with schools to ensure equal opportunities for all children.

We also welcome the decision to publish all of the grades awarded to a school on the Ofsted website rather than the single grade awarded. However, this does not go far enough. The arguments for removing a single word judgement have been repeatedly made – so rather than reiterating them here, let’s consider a positive view of the future – where it is recognised that all schools have strengths and areas for development. We hope a point can be reached where school leaders know they can speak openly about the improvements they are working on and seek support without feeling that they will be found wanting.

We were disappointed by the lack of substance in the speech from the Education Minister, Gillian Keegan. Whilst she made reference to some of the key challenges currently facing school leaders (recruitment and retention, the long term impacts of Covid-19), there was little in the way of tangible support.

We share her concerns about pupil attendance figures, a concern that school leaders clearly share too. However, the issues around attendance are not about data: they are about children and young people.

Ask any school leader to explain their attendance figures, and whilst there might be concerns about term-time holidays, more often you will hear the stories of young people unable to attend due to anxiety and poor mental health, or unmet SEND needs or complex family circumstances. Research suggests that in many cases, persistent non-attendance is often due to several of these factors being an issue. Lack of access to specialist services significantly exacerbates these issues, extending the period of time pupils are absent – and of course, the longer they are absent, the more difficult it is for them to return.

We are glad to see Sir Martyn is encouraging an open dialogue with the profession and hope that this will result in a programme of positive change. This dialogue needs to be extended to look at all of the issues facing our children, through an open and respectful conversation (without talk of punching anyone) which truly puts young people at the heart of decision-making and supports school leaders and teachers.

Read their speeches in full:

Education Secretary addresses the ASCL Annual Conference – GOV.UK (
Sir Martyn Oliver’s speech at the 2024 ASCL Annual Conference – GOV.UK (

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