As a new ministerial team begin to settle into their work at the Department for Education, the ‘to-do’ list is monumental. I shall be meeting with Ministers in the next few weeks and wanted to share here what I think their top ten priorities are that need addressing urgently:
- Stop acting like the pandemic never happened. The world has changed. We have suffered isolation through lockdown and the mental health and welfare needs of our children and their communities have become more stark. We urgently need a Secretary of State who lobbies powerfully and effectively on behalf of children, teachers and schools. Our schools and colleges need to be funded properly to ensure recovery in the fullest sense, to keep everyone safe and to reward the profession for the vital work it does. It is incumbent on all of us to listen to the issues raised by our young people in the Children’s Commissioner’s ‘Big Ask’. They value their families highly and worry about how support for family can be provided, they seek places to play and socialise safely within their community, they prioritise health and wellbeing, high quality schooling and meaningful careers. Our children and young people seek a variety of pathways to achieve (not just university), they believe in social action, in equity and fairness for all.
- The review of SEND provision is long overdue. This has been in the ‘too difficult’ basket for too long. There are an increasing number of children and young people who meet the criteria for additional support but services such as CAMHS, Educational Psychology and Speech and Language are too limited, with longer and longer waiting lists. There is a crisis when provision does not come close to meeting need. Inclusion and support for all young people with SEND requires investment and a generous view of learning and achievement that offers hope and support for all.
- Provide certainty about exam arrangements for summer 2022. Although there are many who would advocate for assessment reform our children, their teachers and families all yearn for certainty in the immediate future. Work with exam boards, Ofqual and schools to ensure that exam guidance is clear and consistent. At the same time publish a workable alternative so that everyone is clear about a plan B.
- Thank the profession and then thank us again relentlessly. Teachers and school leaders need your appreciation not your judgement. The profession has worked tirelessly to provide schooling both online and face-to-face whilst also leading local community support with compassion. At the beginning of the pandemic when providing adequate food supply was a priority, society looked to schools – leaders, teachers and support staff did not disappoint. Recognise that society’s challenges are most keenly felt within schools – the impact of poverty and poor housing on education cannot be overstated. It is time to reform the accountability system, to remove league tables and instead to prioritise individual teacher professional learning as the means to celebrate success. Schools and colleges need to be understood as centres for local improvement.
- Allow time for the Early Career Framework reforms to embed. The investment in our early career teachers is good policy designed to improve retention and to build a career pathway towards excellence. Such an ambitious set of reforms requires culture change within schools. Listen to the teething problems and be courageous about responding so that further improvements can be made to a curriculum that is too generic. Subject specialism matters and tailored support, particularly in the second year, will further enhance the quality of what is on offer.
- Work with the school sector and universities to make the proposed ITT Review fit for purpose. There is widespread dismay at the threat of a heavy-handed approach to reaccreditation. Work with experts from within the sector to avoid the risk of every provider being punished for the faults of the few. We need brilliant initial teacher education to entice colleagues into our wonderful profession. The best of our ITE providers already offer this.
- Ensure the new NPQs hit the mark. It is encouraging that the DfE is providing funded study places for teachers and leaders to develop their careers. Please help small schools with this policy offer by providing funding for release which may otherwise be impossible for schools to afford. Let’s ensure that there is a clear plan for continual refreshment and review of these new qualifications as currently there is a risk that they appear too prescriptive and too narrow.
- Consider long term reform to curriculum and assessment arrangements post 16. Listen to the intelligent, measured debate taking place across the sector. There is a society-wide dissatisfaction with high-stakes GCSEs that result in up to a third of young people failing school. There are several Commissions debating assessment and alternatives that are not only more inclusive but also offer greater depth and appreciation of learning in the broadest sense. Employers, parents and cross-party groups are keen to learn lessons from the pandemic and to build back a more equitable, sustainable approach to education.
- Reform primary assessment from baseline measures right through to KS2 SATS. It is time to draw a halt to the ill-conceived Reception baseline and to high stakes KS2 SATs. Invest instead in a new assessment body that can offer assessment tools and materials for ongoing low-stakes formative and summative measures across a broad curriculum throughout the primary years and into KS3.
- Work in partnership with all schools and colleges – not just academies. We need a ministerial team that communicates willingly with the full spectrum of education providers and professional associations. It is time to openly take the side of teachers, to champion their work in the media and to celebrate the amazing resilience of the pandemic ‘heroic’ generation of young people. We need hope for a better future and the most obvious place for this begins with our early years settings, schools and colleges. The profession is keen to work with you and to support your policy agenda as we move into a new era. Please take every opportunity to listen in order that we can take a once in a generation opportunity to truly work together meaningfully.
Our team at the Chartered College of Teaching is keen to enable teachers to connect through collaboration, to be supported in building expertise and to be celebrated for their contribution; thereby gaining the status and respect afforded to other professionals across society. We look forward to working with you.
Professor Dame Alison Peacock
Chief Executive of the Chartered College of Teaching