by Sue Williamson, Chief Executive of SSATSue Williamson, SSAT chief executive

Stephen Twigg, in his speech at the RSA last week, spoke passionately about his belief in education. He quoted a 15-year-old girl who addressed the Labour Party conference in 2012, echoing her view that education is ‘a key that will open a bright future’.

I agree with her comment. But young people need help from the teaching profession on how to use that key.

I am very fortunate that I had loving parents, but they had no real understanding of the education system in 1950s/60s. I failed the 11+ and went to a secondary modern school for girls, whose ambitions were channelled towards working as a secretary, shop assistant or nurse. University was not an aspiration for the girls in my school and there was no introduction to the possibilities. When I asked my teachers how I could get into teaching, I was told not to bother. I was given no guidance in selecting A levels nor the possibilities around vocational qualifications. I went to a polytechnic for my post-16 courses – did the wrong A levels and was forced to take the new Ordinary National Diploma (OND) qualification. Little wonder that I did not consider going through the UCAS process – I hardly knew about it. It is still true today that all students need high quality IAG.

Stephen Twigg’s speech focused on the structure of our school system and giving freedoms to all schools. Without any further changes, all schools have considerable freedoms now – if they choose to use them. It is clear from all the evidence available that academies are not exercising their freedoms.

A compliant profession
I believe this is because the profession has become compliant. We expect direction from the secretary of state on all aspects of school life. For example, since 1988, discussion of the school curriculum has been largely absent – the belief being that the national curriculum is the curriculum. Yet the legal framework of the national curriculum specified only what schools were legally required to teach – any school was entirely free to teach whatever they wished in addition to the prescribed national curriculum. Academies do not have to follow the national curriculum – how many have decided not to do so?

Schools and school leaders must have the confidence to exercise their freedoms. Schools should seize the opportunity to design the school curriculum – in partnership with governors, parents, students, employers and the community.

Stephen Twigg described the teaching profession as ‘the true enablers of promise’, and rightly argues that qualified status is essential. SSAT is working closely with Professors Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves to define the new professionalism that is crucial for the success of our students.  SSAT will be publishing their pamphlet on the subject in the autumn as part of the Redesigning Schooling series, and Michael and Andy will be leading this work at SSAT’s National Conference: the new professionalism, 5-6 December in Manchester.

SSAT is clear that all teachers have to be curriculum designers. Also within the Redesigning Schooling series, Professor Dylan Wiliam’s pamphlet will help schools make curriculum development a planned and collegiate process. Every school’s curriculum has to be unique but, by using the ideas in this pamphlet, schools will be able to adapt and build on the work of others to design a curriculum that will meet the needs of their students.

The real curriculum
Since the real curriculum is the lived daily experience of students in classrooms, rather than what might be prescribed in policy documents, curriculum development must also take into account how student achievement will be evaluated. The final part of Dylan’s pamphlet will describe how effective curriculum development incorporates assessment and evaluation at every stage of the process, and how this can be done effectively. SSAT will be working with schools to train teachers as curriculum designers.

Stephen Twigg also highlights the importance of schools collaborating. This is something that SSAT has been facilitating since 1987. SSAT’s networks have enabled schools to share ideas and practice. At the heart of those networks is innovation. This month we are publishing in SSAT News the results of SSAT’s Innovation Fellows work: a two-year project that enabled 17 teachers to work together and promote innovation in their own school and with partner schools.

Young people taking responsibility
It is heartening to see Stephen Twigg’s focus on every child – whatever the background – getting the best possible start in life. I have no doubt that this is also the aim of Michael Gove. I would have liked to have heard a focus on the young person taking greater responsibility for their learning and the learning of their peers. If we are successful in engaging the majority of students in their learning and utilising students to help other students, we will see an improvement in results and the skills needed to be successful in today’s world.

Students’ collaboration is as important as schools’ collaboration.
The speech is a good contribution to the ongoing debate on improving our education system. SSAT’s Redesigning Schooling work will be a constructive contribution to the debate. Moreover, it will enable teachers and school leaders to shape the future of schooling, in this country and internationally. To achieve this, SSAT is challenging teachers to develop the new professionalism.

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