A few days after the general election the tone from Nicky Morgan suddenly changed. For the Secretary of State that was seen as a safe pair of hands leading up to the General Election; a politician who genuinely seemed to want to listen and engage with the profession. We had the return to ‘gun to the head’ education policy.
The Sunday Times reported that “squads of headteachers” were going to descend on coasting schools and the existing head would be sacked. As an esteemed colleague noted “it is a squalid little idea, limp in its thinking and destined to fail”.
Firstly, what is the definition of a coasting school? Is it a school that is locally recognised to give its students a great education, but in terms of attainment could do slightly better? Could it be that those students need to make slightly more progress? Or is it a school with a good intake in terms of ability and therefore although they are doing better than the national average, they should be doing much better? Is that steady performance, rather than stratospheric the issue?
Is it a school in a ‘leafy’ area that receives a Requires Improvement judgement? Nicky Morgan stated that it wouldn’t just be an OFSTED judgement. This is welcomed as we can no longer be sure of OFSTED’s judgements about which schools are better than others. But then who? Is it Mrs Morgan herself that will make the judgements or the new Regional Schools Commissioners (RSC)? This has issues at the RSCs have been tasked with converting more schools to academy status, so hardly have a neutral view on a schools performance.
Secondly, where are all these headteachers lining up to take on schools from which, if they don’t get it right, will be sacked? School leaders are already in short supply, there are 182 vacancies for headteachers, currently advertised in the Times Educational Supplement. The fact they are unfilled now means those schools will not have a permanent Headteacher in September. In 2012 just under a third of headteachers were over the age of 55, so we need to find another 8,000 in the next few years. Pronouncements like this will only make the recruitment crisis worse.
Of course rather than this ‘gun to the head’ approach. The Secretary of State could have said that she is proud of the work being undertaken in our schools. That a million children more now attend a good or better school. That she wanted to work with existing headteachers to create a scheme recruiting the brightest and best into leadership positions. These leaders would be trained and supported to address underperformance and to lead schools in the most difficult circumstances. That we would create a programme that would benefit the children of our country, to ensure that everyone had a truly great local school.
…well you can dream