July 2021 edition: Five Key Strategic Challenges for the Next Academic Year and Beyond

Five Key Strategic Challenges for the Next Academic Year and Beyond

As we near the end of an extraordinary academic year, I thought it might be worth reflecting on the strategic challenges that next year will bring. I think there are five that need of our thought and attention now.

1. Planning for education recovery

Amid the heat and light of the Government’s announcement in June about the education recovery package which triggered the resignation of Kevan Collins as Recovery Commissioner, we could pause to think about what we want as a sector.

I do not think we want top-down diktats. So we are advocating an approach to recovery based on the Education Endowment Funds’s tiered methodology:

  • Whole-school approaches which support the quality of teaching, such as staff professional development; pupil assessment and feedback and transition support.

  • Targeted approaches providing targeted academic support, such as tutoring; and other evidence-based intervention programmes.

  • Wider strategies tackling non-academic barriers to success in school, such as attendance, behaviour and social, emotional and mental health support. We need to care as much about our pupils’ wellbeing as their academic attainment. 

We are making the case to Government that there should be a significant package of funding made available to schools and Trusts with an expectation that schools and Trusts work with their boards to publish a multi-year strategy for education recovery. We believe it is reasonable for the Government to say that plans should be based on interventions that are supported by the EEF’s evidence.

As we develop local, regional and national approaches to completing the reform journey, no school and indeed no pupil should be left behind.

Leora Cruddas

This approach would give schools and Trusts the capacity to plan strategically over the medium term, including for additional staff to support the recovery effort. It also gives leaders the opportunity to shape their education recovery strategies according to their assessment of pupil cohorts and matched to context, so that the recovery effort has maximum impact. The three tiers of the EEF’s framework are broad enough that they can be implemented with consideration of local context.

It is interesting to note that this is the approach that the Netherlands has adopted, using England’s Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) as the basis for their education recovery. The EEF has in fact published a blog outlining the approach taken in the Netherlands. 

2. Supporting and developing our teachers and staff

Just as we need to take deliberate and purposeful action to support our pupils’ learning and wellbeing, so we need to give the same care and attention to our staff.

In her Introduction to John Tomsett and Johnny Utterly’s book, Putting Staff First, Sam Twiselton says:

"We all know that education is the foundation of civilised society and the single most important way to open doors and transform lives. Without teachers, we couldn’t have brain surgeons, lawyers, and Nobel Prize winners. We wouldn’t have well-adjusted people who create cohesive communities and make the world a better place. We need high quality teaching more than ever before.”

So we really do need to understand that our Trust really is just our people, and we need to commit to supporting and developing our staff with conviction and enthusiasm.

The Early Career Framework is the evidence base which underpins this new entitlement for early career teachers’ professional development. It sets out what all early career teachers should learn about and learn how to do during the first two years of their careers.

From September 2021 there will be changes to the statutory induction arrangements. This will ensure that all early career teachers undergoing induction are entitled to a 2-year training and support programme based on the early career framework. Key changes will include:

  • The extension of the induction period to 2 school years

  • Early career teachers (ECTs) will be entitled to a programme of training based on the early career framework, as well as the support of a dedicated mentor

  • Additional funding for 5% time away from the classroom for teachers in their second year. Funding will also be provided to cover mentors’ time with the mentee in the second year of teaching

As part of the education recovery package announced in June, the Government committed to additional funding for 5% off timetable for teachers in their second year from September 2021. It is important that this is now a statutory requirement. As we think about how to support our ECTs whose induction was so disrupted last year, it is important to consider that support can be offered in different ways, for example, taken as whole days or half days.

More widely, we need evidence-informed professional development for teachers and staff in all our schools across our Trusts. We need to give our attention to both the wider research picture and its application to our contexts, via the Teaching School Hub’s work, but draw wider evidence too. We need vibrant disciplinary communities that are able to develop and deliver a compelling and rich curriculum.

3. Responding to the Ofsted report on sexual abuse

Ofsted’s review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges has significant implications for us, both in education and in wider society. The review found that:

  • Children and young people said they were unlikely to talk about sexual abuse, especially things they consider to be commonplace.

  • Professionals largely underestimate the scale of the problem. In many schools, sexual harassment is largely unrecognised or unchallenged by school staff.

  • Schools and colleges are dealing with incidents as required. However, a wider cultural shift is required to tackle sexual harassment and online abuse.

  • Schools and colleges cannot do it all. Issues in wider society, such as online abuse, need to be tackled more broadly.

Our response to this is crucial. We need to ensure we create a culture and behavioural approach where sexual harassment and online sexual abuse are not tolerated. Changing adolescent cultures and social behaviours is not an easy task. We will need change strategies across multiple aspects of school life.

4. Shaping the reform journey and future strategy

The Secretary of State delivered a very important speech at CST’s annual conference outlining his ambition for all schools to be part of a strong Trust. This follows the work in CST’s White Paper, the Future Shape of the Education System in England and our New Narrative for School Trusts.

I believe we now need to do three things together

  • We must work together on shaping future strategy – there is a real opportunity to shape the English Education system. At no point since 2010, has there been a more significant moment than now.

  • We must embed our new narrative and dispel myths - There are still too many myths and untruths that dominate the narrative about School Trusts. We need an approach that deliberately builds public knowledge and changes public opinion about Trusts. CST has already started work on myth-busting – this attempts to set the record straight as well as making the evidence-informed case for why Trusts are a good thing.

  • We must build stronger and more intelligent regulation: the regulation of the system was designed for a time when there were around 200 Trusts. As we prepare for the new direction of travel, it is essential that we consider reforming regulation so that it is robust and coherent. This will probably need legislation, but there are things we can do ahead of legislative reform, for example create a single regulatory framework.

5. Leading and governing in the post-pandemic period

CST has mapped the Systems of Meaning within which Trusts are located. This involves three leadership narratives:

  • Trust leadership

  • Civic leadership

  • System leadership

The civic leadership narrative become even more central in the post-pandemic period as we respond to the negative legacies of Covid-19, including the education, health, social and economic impacts on our children, young people and families. We are going to have to work together with other civic institutions to ensure that there is a coherent, local public services offer. This is not to detract from our core business to advance education or secure the best outcomes for pupils.

And the system leadership narrative is important to ensure that we secure, collectively, the quality of education in our local systems. As we develop local, regional and national approaches to completing the reform journey, no school and indeed no pupil should be left behind.

CST’s role is to work with you as your sector body to develop and enact post-pandemic leadership - to build a Bridge to the Future.