Issue 131 - 2024 Summer term
ASCL is proud to represent school and college leaders from across the UK. Read the latest information from our colleagues across the nation - Cymru, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

ASCL UK - Summer 2024

Make magic happen

Since April, we have a new Cabinet Secretary for Education in Wales – Lynne Neagle. We certainly welcome her to this new post and know that she’ll have a daunting portfolio to deal with. There are challenges in the system and that’s for sure.
So, if the Cabinet Secretary could wave a magic wand, what would ASCL Cymru ask for?
We desperately need a fully funded education system that demonstrates, in practical terms, the value our country places on its children. We do not want millions taken away from education to shore up the public transport system, such as happened some 18 months ago. While we’re at it, the labyrinthine funding system, which has 22 local authorities applying 22 different funding formulae, needs to be simplified. Transparent, it is not.
Let’s collapse the multitude of reforms in the system, many of which are a distraction to the core purpose of teaching and learning and focus on what really makes a difference. System coherence really does need to be achieved. There is just too much going on.
We’d like to see school improvement being inextricably linked to improving the quality of teacher instruction by building strong professional networks of schools and school communities. A model of professional empowerment and high-quality purposeful collaboration would move us in this direction.
We’d certainly ask that the new Cabinet Secretary resists calls for a punitive, top-down accountability system on the back of disappointing Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results. We do not need a low autonomy, low-trust system. This will make recruitment and retention even more challenging than it currently is. If we move in this direction, the system will feel as though it exists to blame and punish rather than to nurture and support.
Let’s hope that our new appointee has no need for a magic wand to make any of this happen. As the poet Shel Silverstein writes, “But all the magic I have known I've had to make myself.” Time to get to work.

Eithne Hughes
Director of ASCL Cymru
X: @ASCLCymru


Light at the end of the tunnel

A new Stormont Executive, a new education minister, and a 10.4% pay increase for teachers. Surely things are looking brighter for education in Northern Ireland? Well, it’s complicated.

The pay award has been described as a restoration of pay and the Northern Ireland Teachers' Council (NITC) focus has now shifted to workload, specifically time budgets. School leaders will be required to produce individual time budgets for each member of staff going forward – a huge ask of already over-stretched senior leaders.

The end of action short of strike (ASOS) in April should have signalled a return to business as usual, but instead schools find themselves in an ambiguous ‘gradual return to normal working practices’, which begs the question: what will normal working practices now be?

A generation of teachers have never been part of an inspection – the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) has been blocked since 2017 due to action short of strike. There’s now a new inspection framework to be rolled out. The same conditions have led to reduced assessment and monitoring, and with Covid in the mix, this summer at last represents a final return to pre-pandemic standards for public examinations.

Funding is not equivalent per pupil with the other UK jurisdictions, many schools are operating in deficits and the latest proposed budget from the Executive leaves education hundreds of millions of pounds short.

So, is there any light at the end of the tunnel? Well, the good news is at least we now have a minister in place to make decisions, difficult as they may be. There’s also been a new CEO appointed to the Education Authority, tasked with addressing the huge concerns with that organisation. And in the Independent Review of Education, we have many solutions to problems – we now need courageous leadership to implement them.

John Trueman
ASCL Northern Ireland Director


Ready for future challenges

In Scotland we’ve seen some turbulent times politically, with the first minister resigning and a former deputy first minister and education secretary succeeding to the post. We are hopeful that after a very frustrating year when the reforms, started by the same John Swinney, were on hold, that his new appointment will get the momentum going again. 

In School Leaders Scotland (SLS), we support many of the reforms, particularly regarding the qualifications system as outlined in the Hayward Review, published nearly a year ago. The reform of Education Scotland and the separation of His Majesty’s Inspectorate from that body and the replacement of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) by a new body, are all still stalled due to a lack of vision and direction. Some of these areas need legislation through the Scottish Parliament and we have been promised that is coming, but when? The sense of frustration and the lack of empowerment are growing.

As the annual exam diet continues and we head towards the summer holidays, schools are starting the customary summer activities of sports days, award ceremonies and the change of timetable once the SQA exams are over.

Schools are coming to terms with the cuts and budgetary restrictions being imposed by local authorities across the country. In Glasgow, more than 400 teaching jobs will go over the next three years, a cut that SLS school leaders say will have immense detrimental impact on the lives of young people in one of Scotland’s most deprived authorities. This drastic situation is being replicated across Scotland.

Narrowing the poverty-related attainment gap is going to be an even bigger challenge for school leaders in the coming year. The challenges of poorer attendance, poorer behaviour, poorer support from parents to decisions made by school leaders, a lack of movement on the pay front from the employers, and continual attempts by local authorities to use the job-sizing toolkit to downgrade school leaders’ pay but increase their responsibilities, are some of the challenges we have on our plate for the coming year.

All that being said, our school leaders in Scotland will rise to that challenge, as always, but there may be some collateral damage on the way, not something we want to see happen in any way. 

Graham Hutton
General Secretary of School Leaders Scotland
X: @LeadersScotland

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