The Headteachers' Roundtable - reform from the grassroots

Fiona Millar's picture
The Headteachers' Roundtable published their manifesto A Great Education For All  yesterday and I would urge everyone to read it. I am little bit biased of course. I was invited to cover their first meeting in October 2012 for the Guardian newspaper. They were unique then for two reasons;  they were a group of school leaders prepared to put their heads above the parapet and say what they thought. They had also come together through Twitter at a time when the social network was less well known and less well used by teaching professionals.

Their frustrations at the time arose from anger at the direction of government policy. It was the period after the GCSE marking fiasco and during the consultation on the doomed English Baccalaureate Certificate replacement for GCSEs.They were also dismayed at the lack of a credible opposition from Labour, but rather than sitting around moaning about it they decided to take the policy process into their own hands, use their daily experience as heads and the power of the internet and social media to consult and to push their ideas out to a wider audience.

And it would seem that the wider audience was ready to listen. Since then they have had meetings with Michael Gove, Sir Michael Wilshaw, former shadow education minister Stephen Twiggg, DFE/David Laws policy adviser Tim Leunig and they are about to see the Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt.

They have organised a series of conferences in their schools, to which a wider group of heads have contributed. Their first detailed policy proposal,  for a real English Baccalaureate qualifications framework, helped to inform  Professor Chris Husbands review of skills and the 14-19 curriculum "Qualifications Matter - improving the curriculum and assessment for all" for the Labour Party.  I am convinced that their ideas will attract widespread support from parents, professionals and from young people themselves. Their ten key points below should be at the heart of next year's General Election education debate. Do read the entire document, circulate and give them all the support you can.


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Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 08/05/2014 - 18:25

This all looks great, let's hope the powers that be listen.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/05/2014 - 08:50

The Headteachers' Roundtable manifesto is an excellent framework for debate about education in the months coming up to the next election. It will be a powerful antidote to the tendency of politicians to spin their own alleged "successes" and promote their inexpert and prejudiced view about how education should be delivered.

The Roundtable has the following advantages:

1 They are professionals with many years of experience.
2 Many are already respected, well-known voices.
3 They all work in education so know what it's like to be in schools day in, day out for years.
4 Their comments are measured - they are not given to hysteria or mockery.
5 They are quietly, but firmly, persistent.

I've already featured their proposals for all teachers to be QTS in my thread on free schools. I shall refer to their proposals again in my forthcoming article about A levels.

James Park's picture
Fri, 09/05/2014 - 16:34

Am I the only one who found the document a bit dry and lacking in passion? I wondered why I couldn't hear the voices of the students and teachers these 11 headteachers spend their days with coming through in their arguments. I cannot quite see the proposals - expressed in this way at least - winning the 'wide support from parents' that Fiona is hoping for.

John Mountford's picture
Sun, 11/05/2014 - 22:07

Unlike James, I don't believe the problem with the Roundtable proposals has anything to do with whether they are 'dry' and 'lacking in passion' or not.

Francis, my concern is exemplified by your response. When you say, "let’s hope the powers that be listen." you have hit the nail on the head. This is what it will ultimately come down to - will they listen?

The manifesto acknowledges, "Implementing our proposals will take the will of politicians and a commitment to investing in education;"

I do not believe this group of respected professionals is unaware that 'the will of politicians' is determined by an overriding need to make a mark through their chosen reforms over a short time frame.

The group's primary goal on the other hand "is to provide a vehicle for people working in the profession to influence national education policymakers so that education policy is centred upon what is best for the learning of all children."

This conflict of interest lies at the heart of the current debate and the group clearly articulates, throughout the manifesto, its belief that present structures and priorities are out of step with what they agree is actually needed to transform education.

I believe that no political party will act on any aspect of the Roundtable manifesto that commits them to long-term reform. In truth, even if they did so, it would be an empty commitment. As things stand, as long as education is primarily married to the electoral process, how can any political party guarantee any of its education policies beyond the life of a single administration. The suggestion that parties could be persuaded to collaborate for the sake of "what is best for the learning of all children" is quite frankly, risible.

My question to members of the 'Roundtable' would be, why should the powers that be listen to what they have to say? What would be in it for them?

James Park's picture
Mon, 12/05/2014 - 10:17

My point was that the members of the roundtable need to find a way of displaying their passion if they are to stimulate the surge of support from parents that might start persuade policymakers that they needed to take a serious interest in the measures they propose. To achieve that the message needed to be a bit more like: "We are heads of highly regarded schools who speak for the heads of many more involved in our consultation. Despite all our best efforts, we currently find it extremely hard to give every young person the opportunity to flourish. This is because of the way the system works. We need intelligent accountability that enables us to be strategic in how we run our schools, an intelligent assessment system that enables us to build the confidence every young person needs if they are to learn, grow and achieve; and intelligent staff development processes that ensure every teacher can become the best they can be. This is not what is happening at the moment.

John Mountford's picture
Mon, 12/05/2014 - 21:54

I shouldn't be, but I am surprised that few have taken the opportunity to respond to this thread. I guess I always try to live in hope.

Almost two years ago, Francis, you commented on Robin Alexander's critique of Gove's curriculum reforms in this thread:

Janet had this to say at the time, "Unfortunately there is little chance that Gove will take heed of Robin Alexander’s wise comments. Gove functions on the premise that he alone knows what is best."

Fiona seems convinced that the Roundtable manifesto has a wider audience, ready to listen to the advice offered by this expert group:
"they have had meetings with Michael Gove, Sir Michael Wilshaw, former shadow education minister Stephen Twiggg, DFE/David Laws policy adviser Tim Leunig and they are about to see the Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt."

I'm sorry, Fiona, but, so what is different in relation to the advice of this current group of professional experts?

Why would Gove and his supporters decide to do now what they have steadfastly refused to do to date: to listen to others? Many believed that the Cambridge Primary Review would change the future of primary education for the better. It was ignored by the coalition government and according to David Blunket's latest re-incursion into the education debate, it will not form part of the Labour Party's education manifesto for the coming General Election.

Maybe parents, who seem increasingly to be waking up to the reality of Gove's disastrous education reforms will band together to make our arrogant politicians sit up and listen.

Francis's hope could materialise if parents were to unite behind the Roundtable manifesto. I hope so! However, so long as education is regarded as a political football, we may all be hoping in vain.

I believe it is time for more than hope. You are right, Fiona, that everyone should read the Roundtable document. It is a very workable blueprint for the future, BUT, it will require longer time-frames than the present system of education governance can, or will, ever allow. The authors know this. If they want to change the face of education for ALL our youngsters, however, they need to be bolder. It is time for the governance of education to be placed on a different footing. All we are lacking is strong and determined leadership.

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