Education secretary to set out ‘clearer’ vision for school system

Damian Hinds to overhaul ‘confusing’ system of school accountability to give teachers more freedom and to boost development opportunities for new teachers, announces DfE

Education secretary Damian Hinds will clearly set out how the government will “trust school leaders to get on with the job” by clarifying who schools are accountable to and boosting development opportunities for new teachers.

In an address to more than 350 school leaders at the National Association of Head Teachers’ (NAHT) annual conference in Liverpool on Friday (May 4), the secretary of state set out plans for a clearer system of accountability that will let good schools get on with their job, free from the ‘spectre’ of multiple inspections by making it clear that “the only people who should go to schools for inspections are Ofsted”.

A consultation on replacing the ‘confusing’ system of having both floor and coasting standards to measure school performance, with a single measure to trigger support for schools, was announced. This will be backed by a clear statement on when schools convert to academy status to drive improvement.

In a pledge to the profession, the secretary of state underlined his commitment to giving school leaders the confidence to raise standards in their schools and free up teachers to focus on what really matters in the classroom.

Refocusing the system

In his address, the secretary of state said that in order for school leaders to operate as best they can they need complete clarity on how the accountability system will operate.

He said that he believes Ofsted can provide an independent, rounded judgement of a school’s performance, which means that the DfE does not need to forcibly turn schools into academies – unless Ofsted has judged it to be inadequate.

He outlined his faith in the benefits of becoming an academy – highlighting the many schools that have voluntarily chosen to become academies and said that this is something that he wants more schools to view as a positive move.

There was also talk of refocusing the system so that it ‘does more than just deal with failure’; this is something that the secretary of state said he wants to do in the right way – saying that there will be a single, transparent data trigger for schools to be offered support and this method will be based on consultation.

The proposal, he said, is intended to ‘replace the current confusing system of having both below the floor and coasting standards for performance’.

Plan for the future

Surrounding the announcement the DfE highlighted that there are a record number of teachers working in schools across England – 15,500 more than in 2010 – and that there are increasing numbers are returning to the profession.

Building on thus the education secretary will set out plans to improve early career support and development.

Working with school leaders, new high-quality training opportunities will be developed to boost career progression and support the record number of teachers in our schools to become leaders in their field, including:

  • extending on-the-job training and support for trainee and new teachers to two years, so they get the best possible start to their career;
  • creating early career development opportunities for teachers through a new framework that schools will follow, developed in partnership with teachers, school leaders and education experts; and
  • introducing more flexible working practices that will put the profession on a par with other industries, with a £5m fund to help experienced teachers take a sabbatical.
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The announcement is backed by the NAHT, as the education secretary’s address marks the beginning of two days of speeches and debates on the development and improvement of the teaching profession.

General secretary of the NAHT, Paul Whiteman, said, “The announcements the secretary of state is making today will be widely welcomed by NAHT’s members. Accountability is an essential part of our publicly funded education system but it is also one of the main drivers of workload; a big reason why many talented people leave, and often a limiting factor on the ambitions of schools.

“It’s absolutely right that there should only be one agency with the remit to inspect schools. Clarity about the standards that are expected is just what we’ve been calling for.

“Removing the coasting and floor standards will do much to address the confusion felt by many school leaders. It will be important that the new support standard is set at the right level and helps direct rapid, high-quality, funded support to the schools that need it most.

“We have a track record of working with the government on improvements to the system and we look forward to working with them to help define the detail behind these new proposals and to make sure that these joint ambitions are realised.”

The pledges made today follow on from the secretary of state’s speech in March, during which he made clear that his top priority is to ensure teaching remains an attractive and fulfilling profession, underpinned by a commitment to tackle unnecessary workload. A myth buster video on school inspections featuring the secretary of state and the chief inspector for schools, Amanda Spielman – launched at the ASCL conference – has had more than 75,000 views to date.

The announcements build on measures already supporting teachers’ development and efforts to attract the best and brightest recruits into the profession, including a Flexible Working Summit with business and education leaders to explore how the profession can be more flexible – including through part time roles – which resulted in a number of pledges.

In full, the education secretary will announce:

  • the department’s initial response to the consultation on Qualified Teacher Status;
  • a £5m fund to support more teachers to take a sabbatical – such as a year working in industry relevant to their field – and a research project to introduce more flexible hours in the profession;
  • more detail on the recruitment and retention strategy announced at the Association of School and College Leaders’ conference in March;
  • more support, offered proactively, for schools that are in danger of failing; and
  • the launch of an external advisory group and working group with teaching unions to help develop the department’s strategy.

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