2017’s education movers and shakers

2017 is already shaping up to be just as eventful as 2016, here’s a list of ten key people in education that are going to be making big decisions, influencing opinion and delivering on some big changes.

It’s clear that since Theresa May took the reins in July her premiership will be defined by one thing, working out the details of what ‘the B word’ will actually mean for the UK. In education her commitment to making ‘Britain a country that works for everyone … not just the privileged few’ seems to translate into one thing – more grammar schools. With £200m already earmarked for their expansion in the last ever Autumn Statement, it’s also clear that the Government seems unlikely to heed any evidence from all those that responded to the consultation, that selective schools might not be the best way to achieve social mobility in a context of -8% real term cuts to school budgets. We can expect a new White Paper and ongoing controversy by the summer.

The SoS Justine Greening will be responsible for driving through the expansion of grammars, but she also has some promising ideas of her own, looking at defining families that are ‘just about managing’, going beyond the increasingly creaky FSM proxy for poverty, and identifying the ‘opportunity areas’ that need focused support. The other big issues on her plate include school budgets, with ongoing concerns about scrutiny of academies and the second stage of the national funding formula consultation – closing 22 March. High needs, early years and special schools are three areas that will need particular attention. With FE and HE back in DfE we can also expect further changes in apprenticeships, area reviews and the next REF. The consultation on the latter (closing 17 March) is likely to result in new approaches to both open access research and impact. Careers is likely to receive ongoing attention too, with mounting criticisms of the current approach and hints at a greater focus on vocational and technical routes. The school workforce will remain another priority for Greening, with an ageing workforce, missed recruitment targets and planned programmes not delivering. It may not have been her policy, but you can also expect the SoS to have to deal with some strong reactions in September when the new 9-1 grades replace A*-G in Maths and English GCSEs, with ‘interim’ 8.5-1 grades for other subjects. For me the white elephant in the room is a long overdue wholesale reassessment of school admissions, though I doubt it will be high on the busy 2017 agenda, beyond some selection-focused quick-fixes.

In opposition Angela Rayner and her predecessor Lucy Powell are likely to continue to be a vocal double-act in opposition to the Government’s plans, especially on grammar schools.

Natalie Perera seems to be gearing up to be the de-facto Liberal Democrat education spokesperson (sorry John Pugh MP), with the power of EPI behind her and many years of experience in the DfE, it’s safe to say she and the team will continue to be vocal scrutinisers of Government plans.

At Ofsted we can expect a new, more conciliatory tone from Amanda Spielman and her new team, who will be looking at the impact of inspections on staff. Hopefully this will help teachers to prioritise and so address workload issues such as marking (an area where EEF and NCTL are working to improve the evidence base about good practice). The wellbeing and mental health of both children and staff are likely to be priorities for Ofsted in 2017, with a Select Committee inquiry underway in this area.

In January Dame Alison Peacock will officially start as CEO of the emerging Chartered College of Teaching. Tasked with making education evidence more relevant and practical to busy staff, she is likely to help look at the issue of marking too. Hopes are high for the College but it will take time to build momentum across the profession. Watch out for Founding Membership on 18 Jan.

At the helm of SchoolsWeek we can also expect Laura MacInerney to be a powerful voice for ‘the fourth estate’. Her team’s data and FOI–driven investigations are likely to keep the Government on its toes, especially around free schools, academies and grammar schools.

At Education Datalab, Dr Becky Allen and team have made a huge impact in their first year, combining academic rigour with a slick press operation. We predict some particularly powerful infographics and stats on 19th January when the annual performance and results datasets are published.

Last but by no means least; Professor Becky Francis is likely to help lead the considerable weight of the UCL IoE to spar in the policy ring more than ever, bringing a pragmatic and values-driven approach.

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ICYMI: 2016 in brief

It’s been another busy year in education, before everybody switches off for the holiday season and starts thinking about 2017, I thought it was worth a quick recap of the key events that happened in education over the past year…

January

  1. Overall education spending drops as a proportion of GDP from 5.3% in 2011-12 to 4.4% in 2015-16
  2. Education Select Committee publishes report on Regional School Commissioners

February

  1. Select Committee launches an inquiry into apprenticeships
  2. £4.3m Troops to Teachers scheme delivers … 28 new teachers
  3. Prof. Becky Francis appointed as next Director of UCL Institute of Education (IoE), taking over from Professor Chris Husbands in July

March

  1. George Osborne and Nicky Morgan announce all schools would become academies, then quickly rowed back, with the final death knell for the plans coming in October
  2. Select Committee launches an inquiry into ‘Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs)

April

  1. DfE announces that the three remaining ‘approved’ baseline assessments will no longer be an accountability measure, due to lack of comparability
  2. KS1 SAT spelling and grammar test stopped at short notice

May

  1. Queen’s speech includes new statutory duty for schools to promote the National Citizen Service
  2. Eight new deputy directors appointed to lead RSC offices

June

  1. Despite poll predictions, 52% of the UK voted for #BrExit, it’s still not quite clear what this means
  2. Centre Forum is reincarnated as the Education Policy Institute (EPI) – with a deep war chest, a crack team and a sceptical take on Government policy
  3. Education charities Teaching Leaders and The Future Leaders Trust announce they will merge, becoming Ambition School Leadership in November

July

  1. After an aborted leadership election David Cameron steps down and Theresa May walks into Number 10, replacing Nicky Morgan with Justine Greening as SoS for education
  2. National Governors’ Association (NGA), The Future Leaders Trust (TFLT) and NFER publish research on Executive Headteachers
  3. Amanda Spielman the Chair of Ofqual is confirmed as the next Ofsted Chief Inspector, taking over from Sir Michael Wilshaw in January 2017
  4. Another critical Select Committee inquiry on careers, expect the much anticipated ‘careers strategy’ before summer 2017…

August

  1. Dame Alison Peacock of the Wroxham School announced as new CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching, starting in January 2017
  2. Early years foundation stage profile reinstated as statutory

September

  1. Theresa May’s joint Chief of Staff Nick Timothy credited with masterminding the rather controversial (grammar) Schools that work for everyone ‘consultation’
  2. NFER publish a follow-up report on teacher retention
  3. Select Committee launches an inquiry into ‘primary assessment’

October

  1. On Halloween the Select Committee launches an inquiry into selective education

November

  1. A familiar feeling as the nation wakes up to another unexpected result, Trump for President.
  2. £200m earmarked for grammar schools in the last ever Autumn Statement
  3. NFER published ‘a tale of eight regions’, a follow up report about RSCs
  4. Two ASCL leadership candidates are announced, Chris Kirk and Geoff Barton, with members ‘going to the polls’ in January, and results out 10 February 2017
  5. Social Mobility Commission (SMC) publishes annual State of the Nation report
  6. Select Committee launches an inquiry into ‘Children and young people’s mental health’
  7. Five Select Committees lobby the SoS for statutory PSHE education, some for a second time
  8. Select Committee writes to the DfE with concerns about the transparency and accountability of academy finances
  9. TIMSS and PISA report within a week of each other. NFER publish 20 years of TIMSS in England, TIMSS 2015 in Northern Ireland (full results and key insights), PISA 2015 in Scotland, PISA 2015 for all four UK nations

December

  1. NAO publish report showing a £3bn hole in school finances, with 8% real term cuts and 60.6% of secondary academies in the red
  2. ‘Schools national funding formula – stage 2’ consultation launches, deadline 22 March 2017
  3. NFER publish research on the maths performance of disadvantaged students in England
  4. Primary schools achieve strong KS2 SATs results, despite assessment changes
  5. The National Teaching Service is scrapped
  6. The higher education REF consultation opens

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Are you ready to show-off your talented middle leaders to Ofsted? Seven suggestions to help…

Middle leaders are firmly on the agenda as we understand more and more about the vital role they play in school improvement. A school-led system has middle leaders at the heart of it. Organisations as diverse as SSAT, Teaching Leaders and NAHT Edge are all focused on their development. The Department for Education is expanding a secondment programme from thirty high-performing middle leaders to a hundred. Even Ofsted now explicitly look at middle leaders as part of the leadership and management of a school.

 

Middle leadership in the latest Ofsted framework

  • 156: Inspectors should consider the quality of middle leadership in the school and:
    • the extent to which schools are adequately developing their middle leadership
    • the succession planning and development of future leaders in the school

But who are these middle leaders, what qualities do they need and how do we help to grow them in our schools? In my role I have the pleasure of travelling the country each week, visiting schools and meeting both senior and middle leaders – often discussing those exact questions. They’re increasingly pressing issues, as our recent research with more than a thousand school leaders found that recruitment was a growing challenge for all roles, but most of all when it comes to hiring experienced teachers such as those with a Teaching and Learning Responsibility or ‘TLR’. Many schools have to re-advertise or even withdraw such roles – never finding anybody suitable. And this will only store-up trouble later on. You can bet we’ll have a head teacher recruitment crisis in the near future if we don’t get the support and incentives in place now for our middle leaders. As it stands just a third of middle leaders fancy the top job in school and only half of deputies do.

And yet many schools and groups of schools seem to manage it, building up a strong, talented and motivated middle leadership team. Based on my experiences of seeing some such success stories here are seven suggestions for how a school can grow and develop a healthy stream of talented middle leaders, as well as some questions to prompt your thinking. I’m sure many schools are already doing these things or have taken different approaches, in which case do get in touch to share your own good practice. In this era of tight budgets and school-to-school support it’s more important than ever that we share ideas, challenges and solutions.

 

1) Start by clarifying the school strategy and priorities

Re-examine your vision and strategy documents through the eyes of your middle leaders. Is there a detailed enough articulation of what‘s expected and needed from them, both now and in the future? How are you assessing whether they have sufficient expertise in the right areas to drive things forward? What’s the plan to help them make-up any gaps and have they bought into it?

Start with their teaching and learning capabilities. Are they expert in all the basics of pedagogy, is their knowledge up to date and informed by evidence, and are they spending most of their time in classrooms – both supporting others and teaching themselves? Mill Field Primary School in Leeds was judged outstanding by Ofsted this year, including for leadership and management. Middle leaders were singled out for driving improvement by still being ‘fully involved in the checking of pupils’ progress’.

Next think about their leadership and management duties, what does good look like at your school and do middle leaders understand and agree with what’s expected of them? Mill Field’s middle leaders were praised by Ofsted because the ‘impact of their actions is being felt across the school in the high levels of collaboration amongst staff’. Does everybody at your school understand the approach for evaluating staff performance? This is especially important for middle leaders because they’ll be doing it with other staff. You can make use of regular appraisals, professional standards and other competency-based frameworks. You can also look at what other schools are doing, sending staff to see them in action and discuss strategies with their leaders. A bit of research online will find a wealth of resources too. Are you encouraging questions and ideas from your whole leadership team, enabling them to seek out a range of different sources of advice and support to inform practice at your school. Are different people given clear tasks, such as examining evidence that can help inform the practice of teaching, managing or leading.

  • Do you know how middle leaders support your school strategy?
  • What skills, knowledge and experience do they need?
  • What culture do you have now and what do you want to create?

 

2) Systematically spot and nurture talented people

Having identified and agreed the qualities that middle leaders need, check that your school’s approach to identifying and supporting potential leaders is systematic and transparent. It should include those who have those qualities now as well as those with the potential to develop them in the future. It’s usually better to be as open as possible about both what those qualities are and the school’s process of identifying and nurturing them. There should be clear roles and responsibilities for those involved, including governors for more senior positions. You can work with other schools on talent spotting, recruitment and CPD too, to encourage impartiality and fresh thinking. Equality and fairness should be baked-in to the whole process, informed by the nine protected characteristics and the community the school serves.

It’s always important (and efficient) to nurture talented people internally. All staff, including middle leaders, should have clear development goals they’re working towards. But do these personal goals align with the wider school strategy and are they supported by a systematic approach to CPD? Again middle leaders can lead on different parts of the CPD offer. External expertise can be valuable but with tight budgets it’s important to evaluate such suppliers thoroughly – middle leaders can ask for evidence of impact, external indicators of quality and speak with others who have worked with them. There’s also a lot that schools can do for themselves. If established properly, mentoring and coaching programmes can help staff to develop each other. Middle leaders can ensure there are clear expectations and guidance for those involved, as well as evaluating how effective it is. Again, connecting with other local schools can be effective, widening the pool of people involved. Middle leaders are often active in professional learning communities, usually around their stronger subjects. Such communities can be a mix of in-person and virtual, but you can ask your middle leaders to bring any learning back in to school to share with others.

  • Does everybody know what a good middle leader at your school looks like?
  • When hiring are you casting the net widely to find the best possible people?
  • Are middle leaders involved in developing a systematic approach to CPD?

 

3) Think creatively about resources

Schools are having to do more with less, so are having to think holistically and flexibly about resourcing their middle leadership positions. Establishing a wider network of people can allow for sharing talented individuals across schools, either using informal agreements or more structured arrangements, such as secondments. If you think back to the qualities middle leaders at your school need to support the strategy, chances are you may not always need full-time permanent roles to give the school what it needs. Sharing staff across other schools can be one solution. The CfBT Schools Trust is working in this way, building a team of subject specialists, each working across three Trust schools. Such roles can be demanding, requiring both teaching expertise as well as the ability to engage and influence busy colleagues. You can also be flexible about contracting arrangements, but make sure staff are consulted properly and are crystal clear on the relationship. It’s always good practice to have a rigorous documentation process for such discussions, to avoid any confusion in future.

  • How is your school connecting with other local schools?
  • Are your middle leaders visiting and hosting other middle leaders?
  • Does your school have the skills it needs across the whole team?

 

4) Develop a plan for investing long-term

Often the best way to get the middle leaders your school needs is to grow them from within the school. That takes time and a clear, long-term strategy. Three of the six schools in the Primary Advantage (hard) federation in Hackney form a Teaching School. This combined with their relationship with the UCL Institute of Education (IoE) gives them access to new teachers through the full range of routes into the profession, including Schools Direct. It takes time to build up such relationships and capacities internally, but they can give you more options as well as access to a wider range of teachers and skills. The size of the federation also creates capacity, allowing senior leaders to work in other schools, both within and beyond the six schools. This then allows their middle leaders opportunities to step, from just a few days a week to full-time.

  • Is the school engaging with talented new people from a range of sources?
  • Is there a one, three and five year plan for bringing NQTs to the school?
  • Which partners is the school working with?

 

5) Build-in spare capacity where you can

Leadership development and succession planning should be continuous processes at your school, rather than isolated episodes. However things don’t always go to plan. That talented middle leader you’ve been developing for years, investing time and resources in, may end up taking a job elsewhere, or go on m/paternity leave at a crucial moment. Try not to put all your eggs in one basket, building a broad team of skilled middle leaders. Again connections with other schools can help.

  • Have you got an annual plan for CPD and different succession scenarios?
  • Do you have a clear sense of each middle leaders’ strengths and ambitions?
  • Can you plan hand-over periods, to get new post-holders up to speed quickly?

 

6) Give people challenging opportunities

The best way for many middle leaders to develop is by learning on the job. However those I meet often get responsibility quickly without sufficient support to go with it. That’s not really about salary, that’s about creating a process that feels manageable, allowing them to build confidence and experience over time. Not everyone wants to or is able to be either a middle or senior leader. Greater responsibilities don’t have to be permanent but it helps if people understand exactly what they’re signing up for. Often a good ‘leadership’ experience can encourage them to want to step up and take more on. The opposite is also true, so plan carefully. Our members talk about the satisfaction they can get as middle leaders from helping children across the whole school and by working alongside their teachers. Nearly all teachers seem to be perfectionists, wanting to do their best for their children. Becoming a leader is different, as you start to work indirectly, succeeding through others. That requires a degree of letting go, which can be particularly hard for new leaders. The most effective schools seem to give their middle leaders and those they work with a healthy mix of both structure and space.

  • How are middle leaders at your school encouraged to take time for reflection?
  • What can you offer your most talented middle leaders to hold on to them?
  • How are you balancing responsibility and accountability for middle leaders?

 

7) Make sure they have good role models

The recent ‘workload challenge’ highlighted how much school leaders can influence practices within their schools. Middle leaders are often the ones moderating work, helping colleagues with marking and supporting data collection. Schools can work with their middle leaders to identify efficiencies and avoid practices that don’t support learning. Middle leaders are also role models for staff, setting the culture of the whole team, so it’s important they can access positive role models themselves. Senior leaders can set the tone when it comes to issues such as work-life balance by practicing what they preach. I know one head teacher who insists on always shutting the school gates by 4.30pm on a Friday, going home himself to encourage his team to follow suit. Leaders have a duty to shield colleagues from some of the pressures of the job, sharing only those challenges and responsibilities that people can do something about. But they can also share the joys and satisfaction that only come with leadership, having a positive impact on a wider group of colleagues and students. Middle leaders can influence the whole feel of a school so encourage them to both share insights from colleagues and to be positive.

  • Is the school culture and mood discussed openly and regularly?
  • What positive anecdotes and stories are middle leaders hearing and sharing?
  • Are middle leaders connected with role-models within and beyond the school?

(a version of this blog first appeared through my former day-job, for the SSAT journal)

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We need to help every SEN Co-ordinator to reach their potential

We can’t underestimate the ongoing impact of recent changes to special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision in schools. It takes time to get teaching assistants, teachers, school leaders, parents, governors and the students themselves all up to speed with the completely new system we are moving to. By the end of the two-year ‘transition period’ every school should have personal Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans and SEN Support in place for SEND students, replacing the former structure of Statements, School Action and School Action Plus. There’s also a new Code of Practice, a new approach to assessment, administration of medicines and much more besides.

It’s not as if this wholesale reform has happened in isolation either, with sweeping changes to curriculum, assessment and the rest all happening concurrently. This is also taking place in an increasingly constrained context, which sadly is something unlikely to change after May’s election, whoever comes out on top. Schools are in a situation where they’re having to do even more, with even less.

Every state-funded school has a SEN Co-ordinator (SENCo) appointed, one person responsible for making sure that each SEND pupil in the school receives tailored support and learning opportunities. This is a hugely diverse role. Among other things it involves making such the school’s SEND policy is being followed, working with different colleagues, role-modelling good practice, and mentoring others to help them refine how they teach SEND students.

They have close contact with parents and carers of SEND pupils too, sometimes in difficult and stressful circumstances. SENCos also interact with a wide range of other external professionals and organisations, often across different domains, disciplines and professional boundaries, often all at the same time.

They will also need to influence others, often without direct line management status. That can be a delicate task with busy colleagues, but it’s a key skill to develop and one that can stand people in good stead throughout their careers. Similarly they’ll often only achieve success through others rather than directly themselves so will need to learn how to celebrate and share the achievements of those around them.

They’ll have to manage resources and their time effectively, juggling their own teaching responsibilities with supporting others. They may also be managing the finances associated with any SEND funding or provision, including liaising with parents and carers who now have a dedicated budget to support their child. Ultimately if they’re to stick with it they’ll need to show plenty of enthusiasm and commitment, as well as hopefully get real enjoyment from helping to support the learning of SEND pupils.

It’s a tough job, requiring some sophisticated leadership and management skills, often on top of other responsibilities. But it’s also an important job, and so we have to help support SENCos to reach their potential – playing a strategic role across their whole school, and sometimes beyond.

Given these extra pressures and responsibilities, this points to the need for tailored, focused and high quality support for these important leaders found in every school. It’s not good enough to only lump them in to generic training alongside others school leaders, they need opportunities to focus on the core skills they need in their role and to meet others doing it in other schools.

I hope we can all focus more on the needs of SENCos, we not only owe it to them and their colleagues, but to our most vulnerable students whose learning they champion.

(a version of this blog first appeared through my former day-job, in the TES)

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Learning to love the challenge of teaching

If you believe teaching is a cushy career with long holidays, that particular patch of grass might not be as green as you think. Being a teacher can be a tough job at times and if you only looked in the media, you might miss why nearly half a million people around the country get up each morning to work in our schools. For many of them, it’s not only about helping their students or fellow colleagues but also having a positive impact across the whole school and beyond. I spoke to two teachers and looked at research to learn more about what it means to be both a teacher and a leader in a school these days.

Being that unforgettable teacher for some students
You’ll probably have at least one favourite teacher from your own time at school; somebody who inspired or guided you at a key point in your life. It’s that almost magical feeling of opening young peoples’ eyes to the wonders of the world around them and seeing your students throw themselves into learning that can make teaching so rewarding at times. Conor Heaven, a class teacher and maths subject leader at an infant school in Essex, explains how he was inspired by his year three teacher, Mr Brown, and wanted to be that passionate about learning himself, so others could find those light bulb moments as he did. For some teachers, it’s this feeling alone that keeps them doing what they love, with our research showing that teaching children was the most popular aspect of the job. But for others, as they get more experienced and learn how to have a positive impact on their students, they feel a growing responsibility to share their knowledge and this includes helping their colleagues to become better teachers too. Joanne Gray, head of whole school pastoral care at a special school in Northern Ireland for four to 18-year-olds, talks about the mentoring and support she received from senior colleagues and how she now hopes to pass this on to others.

Keeping on learning yourself
Of course, it’s not all plain sailing. As with other professions, you’ll not only have to work hard to qualify but also to stay on top of the latest evidence and teaching practice. This type of lifelong learning is essential nowadays. Nobody wants to be treated by a doctor with out-of-date knowledge, and the same applies to somebody who teaches your child. This ongoing quest to learn is another motivating aspect of the job for many teachers: learning how best to help different children and to pass that knowledge on to other staff. Joanne describes how satisfying it can be to help colleagues teach those children facing the greatest challenges, such as those coming from a poor household who also have a disability. Similarly, Conor talks about his belief that all children can achieve great things if teachers can help them overcome the particular barriers they face. Our research highlights the importance of school leaders creating dedicated time for all school staff to develop themselves, so they can stay on top of the latest thinking and reflect on their own practice. A teacher is an expert in learning; many of the principles that apply to helping children learn can be applied to adults too.

Knowing your community
There’s growing evidence that the best learning is personalised to an individual’s needs. This is something that can usually only happen if the teacher knows the student, the student’s parents, their colleagues and the wider community. It’s this understanding of the unique context and needs that allows the best teachers to respond accordingly. Conor speaks of the deep relationships a teacher can form with those around them and how these relationships focusing on getting each child to succeed can build up trust. For him, this isn’t just about exam results. It’s also about helping the children to develop human qualities, such as independence, tolerance and respect. Teachers and school leaders are key figures in every local community, with the scope to be positive role models for others.

Experiencing a modern school first-hand
If you’ve not been inside a school since you finished your own education, you’d be amazed how much has changed. There’s lots of information online about getting into teaching and the various routes into the profession. But you can’t beat first-hand experience, so ask your teacher friends how they got into it and what they wish they knew before they took up the role, or contact your local school to find out if they’d be willing to let you visit. You may also consider volunteering as a school governor. Teaching is an amazing career. And who knows, you may end up like Conor and Joanne – the next generation of school leaders. You don’t know until you try.

(a version of this blog first appeared through my former day-job, for the Total Jobs site)

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How can we help every student to always be switched on by science?

Any subject taught in schools needs to balance the future needs of that sector with all of the others. So with science we need some students to go on to further study research and employment in clearly science-related fields; as astrophysicists, dieticians, technicians and all the rest. But more than this we also need every single student to go into their lives with at least a basic knowledge about science and a passion for some parts of it; whether that’s about really understanding how your bicycle works, a full appreciation of your 4G smart phone, or green fingered experiments in the garden. I’m not sure we’re achieving those wider goals yet for science.

Compare this to English, where any adult citizen should hopefully leave school with both basic literacy skills and a love of reading for pleasure (for example see the Read on Get on campaign). Sometimes this can be about national strategies and dedicated English lessons, but often it can be about Literacy Coordinators in schools weaving those concepts and techniques into the teaching practices of others. It’s a similar story with maths, where the majority of students choose not to study it further at the earliest opportunity. Many schools are starting to use mathematical concepts in other lessons and subjects, whether it’s practical projects, balancing finances or learning games. The evidence is growing that good quality teaching rests on the teacher having deep knowledge of their subject, being an expert at teaching, and also knowing how to best help colleagues teach elements of their subject too. The first two parts are hard enough and we’ve a long way to go. But that third bit can require the development of quite sophisticated leadership skills.

There are two inter-related areas we can focus on to help improve this situation, one at a national level and the other actually in schools.

Firstly at a national level we need government ministers, officials and other policy-makers to talk about English, Maths and Science, rather than just the first two. Science remains the poor cousin of the three in the national discourse. This is easy to fix and costs nothing.

The second national issue is more difficult. We need the government to invest in our schools, rather than allow a real-terms cut of 12% as the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has predicted. Schools can take on the challenges of rising standards and greater accountability but they need help to grow their capacity.

Thirdly we need government to help make being a teacher and a school leader more attractive, especially to science graduates. We’re facing a perfect storm of a rising economy that offers careers in better-paid professions, a falling number of graduates, and a rising number of school students. Issues such as workload and pay need proper attention.

Fourthly we (finally) need a long-term national STEM strategy. One that has a clear definition of STEM at each education stage, that systematically monitors the ‘pipeline’ of people with STEM skills, identifies any gaps and properly evaluates the solutions. It’s time to go beyond ad-hoc pet schemes and projects.

On a smaller scale and influenced by those four national issues there is also a lot that schools can do, with both middle and senior leaders key players. Science is currently taught in a range of different ways, with dedicated science teachers in most secondaries and a tiny number of primaries. Whereas in most primaries non-specialist class teachers are teaching some science to their own class. But even this picture is by no means universal, I’ve heard of one large secondary without a single science teacher which is unsurprising as this is one of the most challenging roles to recruit for, particularly in some schools and localities.

Whichever model is adopted (or available), it’s important that all those teaching science have access to excellent science teaching expertise. For example the Wellcome Trust is promoting the idea that every primary school should have (or have access to) a Science Leader. This is a rightly ambitious target but is within that challenging context of constrained resources and teacher supply.

Within schools it’s important that they’re make good use of the appropriate evidence, with middle leaders often well placed to explore the options for improving science teaching for their students.

Given the limited supply of new science teachers, good Continuous Professional Development and Learning (CPDL) becomes more important than ever. However, it is hard to judge the impact of CPDL in advance or to prove it afterwards, leaving cash-strapped schools with difficult choices to make. Beyond science teaching there are wider challenges with CPD as too often it is generic rather than truly subject-led. Budget constraints require school leaders to really prioritise CPD, to spend their money wisely, as well as funding release time for CPD and subject leadership. I’ve also heard that the way Performance Related Pay is implemented in some schools it can discourage teachers from spending time away from their own students.

Beyond school it’s not just about science lessons and science teachers. There are a dizzying array of other science resources available. For example STEMNET ambassadors are a network of local experts who use science in their day jobs or studies, and who are passionate about sharing that experience. There are enrichment activities such as CREST the ‘STEM Duke of Edinburgh awards’. There are also new developments such as Q&As with experts online through the I’m a scientist initiative.

Helping students and teachers interact with those who are actively using science in their work can help to engage and enlighten them about the realities of the full range of future careers and industries out there, beyond the simplistic lens of ‘men in white coats’. To that end I hope the £25m funding the government has put into the new Careers Company will include a focus on both primary and science.

Proposals for busy school leaders have to be clear and coherent, which can be challenging given the size and diversity of the STEM community. Many school leaders are looking forward to working with you all though, together we can help every student get switched on by science.

(a version of this blog first appeared through my former day-job, for the Science Association)

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