We often hear at first-hand from our mentees about their own journeys and experiences in school and it is for this reason that we have been encouraged to publish a bi-annual report, which makes practical suggestions for improvement. It is not intended to criticise current or previous practices, but to constructively debate the issues.
Tim Clark, an acclaimed Head and author, writes from real-life and wide experience. His whole career has been devoted to supporting young people and to raising standards in a variety of schools; he now does this on a national and international level. His recommendations should appeal to teachers, parents and students right across the political divide.
The original report has been republished with the latest update because what was written in June 2023 still remains pertinent. The need to make Ofsted inspections more worthwhile and fit for purpose and the benefits of widening the curriculum, especially for pupils aged 14 to 16, are still two key considerations for further improving our schools. Since June, however, several other issues have raised their heads such as RAAC and the Labour Party’s assault on independent, fee-paying schools.
Over the past few years there have been some remarkable achievements in English education. The latest international reading tests put England fourth in the world, compared to nineteenth in 2006, not least showing the remarkable resilience of our schools in the face of COVID. There are now 20% more schools in England judged to be “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted than in 2010, and GCSE performance continues to be slightly higher in England than in Labour controlled Wales. Serious strides have also been taken to help resolve the teacher recruitment and retention crisis for example by raising the starting salary to £30,000, the offer of various bursaries and the announcement of fee-free apprenticeship degrees for trainee teachers.
The recruitment and retention crisis of teaching staff must, however, remain the top priority. This year, only 50% of the target for Initial Teacher Training places has been filled, a drop from 57% last year. Worryingly, the issue remains the “perfect storm” with more existing teachers leaving the profession [one third of new teachers do not even stay for five years and I should argue that it takes five years to become a really effective teacher] and less new blood joining, plus, to exacerbate the issue, there are almost 74,000 more pupils in England’s schools than this time last year. As argued before, for most teachers, salary is not the prime consideration and it is with these wider issues that the report is again primarily concerned.
A headship on Jersey was recently advertised. Although the School adheres to an English curriculum and UK approaches to teaching and learning, the advert seemed to think that the School’s biggest attraction was that it is, “free from Ofsted, performance related pay and league tables, thus allowing us as professionals to put children and good teaching at the heart of what we do”. Although there are strong arguments for each of the above, the wording of the advert suggests that in their current incarnations they do little to attract people to join or to remain in the profession.
I again stress that there is absolutely nothing political about this report or its recommendations – they should be acceptable to people of all political persuasions and to those of none. The aim is purely and simply to improve our mainstream schools, not least by attracting more inspirational and able people to join and to stay in the profession. Education is far too important to be a political football: we must provide the best possible education for all young people, regardless of background and ability. Only then will the country be assured a bright, prosperous and exciting future.
This is also a General Election year. Education will always be top of the agenda in the party manifestos and how we treat our teachers and support staff is going to be key for winning up to a million votes. Disraeli famously said in 1874: “It is upon the education of the people of this country that the fate of this country depends.” As true today as then.