White Paper in the New Year – Levelling Up?

Sue Williamson, CEO at SSAT reflects on the announcement made by the new Secretary of State for Education.

At the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, the new Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, talked about the value of education and the impact teachers had on his life. He promised that he will be led by evidence in the decisions he takes, and there will be a focus on what works. Mr Zahawi has the ambition of T levels to be as famous as ‘A’ levels. He said that “every child deserves a great teacher. And every teacher deserves great training.” Mr Zahawi committed to delivering 500,000 teacher training opportunities and said: “We are carrying out a fundamental overhaul that will make this country the best in the world to train and learn as a teacher.” Whilst I can agree with the ambition, I hope that the SoS will listen to school leaders and teachers rather than a small group of party supporters.

He says that every child has the right to a personal tutor, but the reality is that there is insufficient funding to implement a large-scale personal tutor programme. I hope that he grasps the principle that “one size does not fit all” and considers personalisation of learning. He also needs to provide schools with proper funding to close the gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students. All students need to be known as individuals and supported by an adult to achieve their potential. To remove the barriers to learning, public services need to be redesigned and joined up to provide best value for money and a fast and effective service for children and young people.

Before the White Paper, it is critical for all stakeholders to agree the purpose of education and the roles of the various stakeholders. If Mr Zahawi does this, he will bring together the profession, employers, parents, FE and HE and students together. That in itself would be a major achievement.

SSAT will be seeking the thoughts of all members and offering the SoS examples of what works at all stages of learning and schooling. This is the opportunity for school leaders to show system leadership and for the DfE to demonstrate a willingness to work with the profession. After all, we want the same for children and young people – deep social justice – a commitment to ensuring that all students, whatever their ability or context, leave school fully prepared to lead fulfilled and purposeful lives. As I wrote in Deep Leadership for Social Justice:

“Achieving social justice will require governments of all persuasions to work in a radically different way and recognise that educationalists in all phases should be heard in designing and delivering policy.”

If the Prime Minister is sincere in his commitment to levelling up, now would be the right time to work in a radically different way. Let’s see!

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