The Association of School and College Leaders has written to Education Secretary Kit Malthouse to express our dismay at some of the comments he made in his speech to the Conservative Party conference on Tuesday. The letter is jointly signed by General Secretary Geoff Barton and President Evelyn Forde.
We write to express our dismay at some of the comments you made in your speech to the party conference yesterday, and our concern at what they might portend.
We spent two constructive days, we believe, at the conference – speaking at a number of side events, sometimes alongside a member of your ministerial team. At all of these events, we highlighted the major challenges currently affecting our schools and colleges. These are the interrelated issues of a severe and worsening funding shortfall, a rapidly growing staff recruitment and retention crisis, and the impact of our high-stakes accountability system.
Our 22,000 members, who run schools and colleges across the UK, are currently extremely concerned about their ability to keep their institutions afloat in light of these serious challenges. They are doing all they can – often at the expense of their own health and well-being after two and a half grueling years – to continue to provide the high quality education and support our children and young people deserve.
In this content, we were frankly appalled to hear you refer to the people who lead and work in our schools and colleges as “clinging to mediocrity”, and assert that education needs “constant attention and ‘constant pressure’ in order to ‘move it forward’. .
We recognize, of course, that there are schools and colleges that perform less well than others. And we share your ambition to give all children and young people every opportunity to fulfill their potential. This is what motivates us and our members.
However, we completely reject your premise that any school or college “clings to mediocrity”. As you rightly acknowledged in your speech, the vast majority of schools – almost 90%, in fact – are currently rated as good or exceptional by Ofsted. Schools rated less than good, according to a recent study by the Education Policy Institute and University College London, often face a combination of
We also strongly refute your suggestion that the answer to improved results in these schools is “constant pressure” from the government. On the contrary, the extreme pressure already felt by leaders, teachers and support staff is a major driver of the current exodus of staff from our schools and colleges. In a recent survey, ASCL members listed the following factors as their reasons for considering leaving school or college leadership:
- exhaustion/fatigue (68%)
- unsustainable workload/working hours (67%)
- salary (59%)
- lack of recognition/respect from government (57%)
- stress (53%)
- well-being (52%)
- accountability measures (50%)
- government education policy (50%)
- pressure from funding constraints (49%)
‘unusually difficult circumstances’, including high teacher turnover, high student mobility, more disadvantaged students, being located in disadvantaged neighborhoods and having higher levels of students with SEND. These are not schools that choose to be “mediocre”; they are schools struggling through thick and thin to do their best for some of our most vulnerable children and young people.
Obviously, this is not a problem to which the answer is “more pressure from the government”. Rather than upping the ante even higher and taking low blows to a profession already on its knees, your department should leave no stone unturned to provide schools and colleges with the funding they need to keep their doors open, the support they need to provide the education and care of children and young people with increasingly complex needs, and a functioning pool of teachers to staff their organisations. Everything else is just a posture.
We would like the opportunity to discuss these concerns with you as soon as possible.
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