Hey with Zion headteacher: “As the government eyes up structural reform in education, it must get its own house in order”

Published by Andrew Clowes on May 3rd 2022, 6:03am

Writing for The Leaders Council, Andrew Clowes, headteacher of Hey with Zion Primary School in Oldham, Lancashire, discusses ministers' push for a trust-led school system in its recent White Paper, but stresses that the government must address other structural issues of its own first.

Did Nero really fiddle while Rome burned?

No. There was no such thing as a violin in Ancient Rome. If he played anything, it might have been a cithara. The point behind the saying is that Rome was in crisis in 64 AD while a great fire raged, and Nero was an ineffectual leader.

History has recorded a few ineffectual leaders.

We can all benefit from judging how we ourselves measure up in comparison to leaders of the past, checking the values which guide our actions.

Do we abide by the same standards we expect others to follow?

In the recent government White Paper, our current secretary of state for education, Nadhim Zahawi, advocates structural reform that will lead, to a fully trust-led school system by 2030. All schools will have academised.

There is an element in school staff rooms of: “We’ve heard all this before.”

In 2016, Nicky Morgan told us we would have done it by 2022. But here we are, and it still has not happened.

As a school headteacher, I am one who can actually see theoretical benefits in joining a good trust. The structure does matter.

However, I challenge Mr. Zahawi to hold up the mirror to higher structures in education: to the Department for Education [DfE] itself, for example; to Ofsted; to the communication links [or deficit] between the various bodies to which schools are accountable.

Let’s start with the Department for Education. Its latest guidance for schools tells us that, “attendance is mandatory for all pupils of compulsory school age, and it is a priority to ensure that as many children as possible regularly attend school.” Quite rightly too.

On what planet then, can it possibly be acceptable that amid widespread consternation about the low attendance at work of civil servants in general, the Department of Education is the lowest attending department of all, with just 25 per cent going to work in the recent figures?

As my teenager might say, not on a planet yet discovered.

Mr. Zahawi: the DfE disgraced your predecessor with its Covid lockdown partying, do not let it disgrace you, too.

How about Ofsted?

I have written before of how out of date Ofsted reports become before they are renewed: my own school’s report relates to the 2016-17 school year.

I want parents to have access to up to date information, so I provide what others have since said about my own school. What Ofsted currently offers is not enough to keep parents informed.

Schools are accountable to so many disparate bodies, yet there is minimal communication between them all. Some of these bodies include:

* Market forces. A school needs to have the trust of parents for them to send their children, otherwise they will choose another school.

* Governors, who will meet at least termly, usually more often. I shall typically have twelve formal meetings with governors each school year, [in the shape of three full board meetings plus nine committees] as well as many supplementary meetings.

* The local authority. I receive termly quality assurance visits with reports written for governors.

* SIAMS: church schools are subject to a church school inspection on top of the Ofsted version.

* Church education visits: the Methodist Church visits its schools generally half termly, for supportive school improvement work.

* External agencies: in instances such as when we work towards awards, we are assessed. This year we shall work towards a reading quality mark with a school improvement body. We have also undertaken a reading audit from our local English hub.

* Ofsted, who visit every few years [July 2016 was our most recent].

I am unaware of any mechanism the DfE has in place for keeping up to date with the bullet pointed sources of information above, other than relying on the headteacher every few years at an Ofsted inspection to fill in the gaps in their knowledge for them…that is, if it is the same headteacher still in post.

Structurally, and the White Paper purports to have a structural focus, our governmental leaders need to get their own house in order.

My four-point action plan for Mr. Zahawi is as follows:

1. Get the DfE back in work so that all the benefits of face to face collaborative working can improve output which will enable schools to benefit.

2. Quality assure the work of the DfE to a level that Mr. Zahawi can himself tell the nation he is proud of his department.

3. Review the function of Ofsted so that much more up to date information is available to parents. An easy way of doing this would be to require termly or at least annual local authority audits to be recorded on the school website and at the DfE.

4. Then… get on with all that is planned in the White Paper.

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Andrew Clowes
Headteacher at Hey With Zion Primary School
May 3rd 2022, 6:03am

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