Consultation, Consultation, Consultation?

Another half term another DfE consultation document to complete.

The shift in Key Stage 4 qualifications policy signalled this summer accompanied an injustice visited upon thousands of students, parents and teachers in the name of standards. English GCSE results were tampered with on the C/D borderline and DHSB joined other professional groups and schools to launch a judicial review, such was the strength of feeling; something I haven’t witnessed in twenty years of teaching.

Separate from this issue was the proper debate around standards and I welcome this, even though it will throw my own family into the frontline. It looks as if my eldest son will be in the final cohort for GCSE examination and that my second son will be in the cohort taking whatever the new English Baccalaureate Certificates become.

And so I have just completed the DfE’s consultation on the reform of KS4 qualifications to have my say about standards and the way forward. Except that I don’t feel I have had my say. The questions addressed pre-ordained decisions about design and curricular emphasis and were about nomenclature and implementation of the new awards rather than a rigorous debate about the type of education our country needs. We also needed to know how the tension between assessment and accountability will be resolved following Ofqual’s admission that they haven’t quite been up to regulation this year before we offered our opinions.

One of my answers got a bit tetchy towards the end:

If we are debating standards, there should be a consensus as to whether high stakes performance indicators have truly driven up standards in the last 15 years or whether they have led to schools “gaming” the system at the expense of a broad, quality education.

It would be rash to replace one set of league tables for another and expect a different response.

Anyway, I finished the consultation response. I will never be cynical about education and we are honour-bound to let the DfE know what we think. I encourage anyone with strong opinions on the issue to respond too:

https://www.education.gov.uk/aboutdfe/departmentalinformation/consultations/a00213902/reforming-key-stage-4-qualifications

Education is something every member of the electorate has experienced and comprehends today in the context of that experience – this makes it too much of a temptation to politicise. The prevailing meme from the DfE appears to be one of taking our education system back to the good old days when exams were hard and we taught proper subjects. This is why there needs to be a cross party approach to change and the standards debate. It’s too important, too much of a slow burn, to be buffeted by political trends.

I feel for my colleagues here too. There has been constant change to syllabuses and curricula in recent years and a great deal of energy and resource used to furnish these. It is vital to get whatever the new system looks like right first time.

So what does our system need to do to sustain improvement?

The opportunities for developing professional capital and expertise can only be done within a framework of trust in the system and a respect for the intellectual credence of the drivers for change. The correct drivers for change are proposed in an excellent paper by Michael Fullan – shared by Tom Reynolds, a contributor to this blog. I couldn’t recommend this read more highly.

I still believe partnerships are central to realising the transformational change our system needs. Teaching schools will continue to be successful within existing alliances that have a strong commitment to sharing data and staff. Unfortunately, they are a potential “house of cards”; de-designation may never be far away in a toxic, rock-and-a-hard-place landscape of grade deflation, rising floor standards and a rigid Ofsted regime stalking the land.

In another school-led approach to system leadership, Academy chains may no longer be seen as deficit models, but agents for developing professional capital and, among other things, connecting the world of work and business with schools (I recommend Andrew Adonis’ excellent book “Education, Education, Education” for context here). But there are real difficulties in forming alliances when the prevailing atmosphere is one of threat and vulnerability.

What drives education professionals, such as the members of the new @Headsroundtable group on Twitter, is a confidence in the ineffable positivism and energy of young people. Our students’ talents and ambitions remind us constantly that they deserve the best system that the professionals, rather than the politicians, can design.

@Headsroundtable gained 3.5k followers in days and has become an independent contributor to system debate. The DfE might follow and engage rather than publish non-consultation consultations?

This post grew from my DHSB magazine editorial. Our magazines are windows through time (going back to 1911), and in stating that students over the last five years have seen the greatest changes in the Education system for a generation I am conscious of the dangers of hyperbole, lest history prove me wrong.

Will students reading our school magazine archive in 2022 reflect positively on this period of change? Will they say that school leaders worked together, doing everything they could to make their professional voices heard? Whatever we do, it’s time to pipe up.

4 thoughts on “Consultation, Consultation, Consultation?

  1. Adrian Cameron

    I have real concerns for my own son who will be bridging the transition from GCSE to new qualification… he will in effect be the final sitting of GCSE and my concerns are that he and his fellow students may be left straddling an abyss of disinterest and refocus as maybe the eye loses focus on the target.

    Whilst Kieran may well feel as though he has not had his say, spare a thought for the even more disenfranchised parent, left to trawl any open information sources to understand, let alone influence decision making. At least Kieran has a voice, as shrill as it may be in the vacuum of education decision making.

    I struggle sometimes to understand, let alone voice concerns at the processes within DHSB, with particular concerns about review and feedback vis a vis students performance, an understanding of current academic progress and future expectations and the schools role in provision of an accessible and balanced diet for its students. Consultation, consultation, consultation at a micro level certainly appeals to me.

    Adrian Cameron

    1. Thanks for this post. Notwithstanding the speed of the Coalition’s policy making, DHSB is in a strong position to make any necessary adjustments to provision and has demonstrated a commitment to a broad and balanced education over many years.

      My frustration with the proposals stems from the lack of proper consultation with the profession over key design issues. I agree that parents may feel even more disenfranchised and guess that education in the 2015 election may be a significant differentiator.

      Anyone can respond to the consultation and I would be happy to share the school response once my colleagues have finished adding to it.

      On a micro-level, please do contact the school (via Amanda Moore or the form tutor in the first instance), with any questions you have about your son’s progress. I am available between 16:00 and 17:00 on Wednesdays and appointments can be made through my PA, Sarah Nicholson.

      Kieran Earley
      Headteacher
      Devonport High School for Boys

      01752 208787
      Twitter: @kieran_earley

  2. Karen Stears

    Read this, together with the parental comment below, and the Fullan paper, with interest. Fullan’s idea of social capital is to an ex HE practitioner old news. Faculty and Senate meetings have long facilitated such consultation in that educational sector in the UK and in my experience this has led to a much less hierarchical or top-down system of leadership than seems to be the case in secondary and primary educational institutions. This pedagogic egalitarianism in the HE sector might not always be successful (I knew some dreadful lecturers) but could on the other hand allow great adventures to take place with regard to practice and it also facilitated rapid dissemination of ideas and praxis. But the key to this was the relative lack of governmental or other interference among HE practitioners, a situation in sharp contrast to the primary and secondary sectors. As long as teachers are regarded as incapable of doing their jobs without constant external and shifting hoops to jump through, why would experienced professionals be interested in long-term development and pedagogic innovation? What’s the point when government is so cavalier and distrusting?

    As to social capital, well OK, but let’s also include interested and able parents in the consultation and not just with individual staff but on wider consultative bodies. Could we be brave enough to have an open deliberative council of interested bodies? What might it achieve? Or would we all be fighting for our own agendas? We all want what’s best for our own son, career, department or whatever; could we be brave enough to do what’s best for the school as a holistic vision as it proceeds bravely through the stormy political seas ahead? Prorsum semper honeste?

    1. A true reflection of the independence and power of Universities – they are more free.

      Our termly parent panel has led to adjustments in policy and engagement but we aren’t really talking about taking the initiative with system issues, we are *responding *to Government requirements.

      Responsibility for Secondary success (and funding) and the ability to deliver an education that enables young people to take their next steps requires decisive leadership.

      DHSB does this well, alongside a clear approach to building professional capital. I also feel we have a flat enough intellectual structure to enable important debate.

      Crucially, our students have 99.6% of their free option choices at KS4.
      But as you say, we don’t the same freedoms as our tertiary partners.

      *Kieran Earley
      *Headteacher
      Devonport High School for Boys
      Paradise Road, Plymouth, PL1 5QP
      01752 208787
      dhsb.org / Twitter: @kieran_earley

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