The Education White Paper – Beyond the Headlines

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Its high profile was inevitable as George Osborne had already announced the policy during his Budget speech the day before, and the topic of academisation was already controversial for teachers, parents and educationalists.

Interviews, articles, blogs and posts on the subject have dominated the education news ever since. Two petitions have each attracted more than the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a parliamentary debate, and teacher rallies have been held in London, Birmingham and a number of other cities. Even those who support academies are cautious about the Department’s capacity to implement the plans.

But ‘academisation’ is just one part of a wider programme of further reform set out in the white paper, which the Government says will make a reality of a “school-led system” built around “supported autonomy”. Below we highlight some of the other proposals that will have a particular impact on teachers’ lives. As ever, the devil will be in the detail, which will emerge over coming months.

New approaches to teacher training, accreditation and professional development

  • A working group chaired by executive principal and regular government adviser Stephen Munday is developing a new framework of Initial Teacher Training (ITT) content. It will be built around advanced subject knowledge, behaviour management, special educational needs and evidence-based practice.
  • Qualified Teacher Status will be replaced by a new accreditation system similar to that operated by other professions, based on proof of effective practice. When a head teacher considers a new teacher has attained the bar set by the Teachers’ Standards s/he will put them forward for ratification by a high performing school. More details are promised shortly.
  • Another expert group is developing a new Standard for Teachers’Professional Development, which will be published this spring; and schools and MATs will be encouraged to publish research and CPD materials on an open-source basis.
  • The College of Teaching is due to open this year and will play a key role in the move towards greater ‘professionalisation’ and evidence-based practice. It will accredit CPD and will publish a new, peer-reviewed education journal, similar to the British Medical Journal. The remit of the Education Endowment Foundation – part of the Government’s ‘What Works Network’ - will be expanded to support evidence-based teaching, character education and prevention of poor outcomes post-16.

School-led improvement and more influential school leaders

  • Teaching Schools are considered a great success, and they will have a more focused role in providing ITT, wider school-to-school support and evidence-based CPD.
  • They will also take on responsibility for school improvement from local authorities, acting as a hub for brokering the support provided by National Leaders of Education (NLEs), Specialist Leaders of Education and other ‘system leaders’. School improvement funding will be routed via Teaching Schools and a new accountability system will be introduced to ensure they and NLEs are fulfilling their increasingly critical role. To ensure nationwide coverage, 300 more Teaching Schools will be designated along with 800 more National Leaders of Education (NLEs).
  • There will be new, voluntary National Professional Qualifications for leaders, and – with the growth of MATs – more opportunities for teachers to take on leadership roles. Schools and MATs will have access to new Excellence in Leadership seed-funding for innovative approaches to developing leadership, particularly those aimed at supporting women and BAME teachers into leadership positions.
  • The main focus throughout will be on ‘Achieving Excellence Areas’, i.e. those areas that have low standards and struggle to recruit leaders and teachers who can help them improve.

More opportunities for flexible working

  • As part of its recruitment and retention strategy, the Government wants to promote part-time working and job sharing. A new national teacher vacancy website will make it easier – and cheaper - for schools to advertise such opportunities and there will be guidance on making the arrangements work. Schools will be encouraged to develop part-time training routes.

‘Character’ isn’t going away

  • The recent focus on ‘character, resilience and grit’ will continue: it will be built into the new ITT framework; schools will have access to tools to identify successful approaches and measure progress; a new platform will enable teachers to share best practice, evaluate approaches, find materials and contribute data; Teaching Schools will also spread best practice.
  • The proposal for longer school days that has also featured in the headlines is in fact funding for around 25% of secondary schools to introduce after-school character-building activities such as sports clubs, debating societies and challenges.
  • As already announced, the National Citizen Service is to be expanded with a view to 60% of 16 year-olds being able to take up a place; and an expert group is developing an action plan to improve PSHE.

The plans set out in the white paper are highly ambitious and rely on school leaders, teachers and other parts of ‘the system’ being fully on board to make them work. At a time when the profession and Government appear to be increasingly at odds, it remains to be seen whether that can be achieved.