The Secretary of State’s first media outing of this parliament might not have had the outcome planned. A visit to the Andrew Marr shown and an article in the Sunday Times guaranteed plenty of media exposure, plus comment elsewhere. Tackling coasting schools may play well with the Tory faithful, but might be guaranteed to upset the teacher associations, even were it to be a valid argument.
Just imagine a company with 20,000 branches that announces on national television that every branch where sales don’t increase by the national average will be taken over by a manager working in a branch with above average sales. Now the branch in leafy Surrey where the fall in sales is due to customers switching to the internet to make their purchases rather than driving to the shop might still find plenty of people wanting to be a manager. But, the branch in a rundown shopping mall in an area of relatively high unemployment might seem less attractive, especially if it was finding it difficult to recruit staff despite the high unemployment. Of course, the company could offer incentives to relocate staff as it is one big organisation and any employee keen for promotion would recognise the need to relocate.
Schooling in England isn’t yet like that. It suffers from a chronic lack of attention to governance and management that sees local authorities clinging on to their remnants of their former power in some areas; more successfully in some places than others. Then there are the churches, with lots of schools, but for too long no obvious plan for improving standards across all their schools, but a loyal workforce. Since many teachers, especially primary school teachers, train in their local area and aim to work there for their whole careers, the idea of a mobile leadership force, especially in the primary sector is quite possibly fanciful. Indeed, one wonders if the DfE has undertaken any research into the mobility of the teaching force and its leadership, let alone into how many school leaders would need to relocate to tackle the coasting school issue. If none, then the Secretary of State really was guilty of careless talk.
Perhaps it was just a shot across the bows. After all both Nick Clegg and David Laws had proposed plans when in government to create a national cadre of school leaders – see previous posts discussing the idea – so may be this was just an extension of those ideas, but less well articulated. For there are schools that need encouragement to do better, if not for all their pupils, but for some groups whether the least able or the middle attainers or even the most able if their results are being supported by the parents that pay for private tuition and revision classes.
However, until we have an understanding of the shape and lines of control of our school system and whether it is a collaborative or competitive system, it is difficult to see how parachuting leaders into schools on the basis of external assessments will bring improvement to the system as a whole.
Indeed, it might make matters worse if it both dissuades teachers from taking on leadership roles and makes teaching look an unattractive career to new entrants, where the rewards don’t match the risks. We need to get the best from those that work in schools, Michael Gove didn’t, and it is unlikely Nicky Morgan will if she doesn’t balance the waved stick with some sensible use of the carrot.