July 2022 edition: Reflections on a Duty of Care

Reflections on a Duty of Care

In this conference edition of Trust, I wanted to reflect further on the themes of my conference speech. As I said in my speech, I am thinking hard at the moment about Professor Peter Hennessey’s book, A Duty of Care: Britain, which I recently read. It is a powerful book giving a compelling analysis of Britain before and after the Covid-19 pandemic.

This book argues that what defined us in the post-war period was our sense of a Duty of Care. This was the basis of the great reforms outlined in the Beveridge Report of 1942 which in turn resulted in the great pillars of the Welfare State.

We have rediscovered an intense duty of care through the pandemic. Hennessey refers to the Covid-19 enquiry and suggests that their report should be called: "‘It took a Virus…’ for this is what stimulated us collectively to sharpen and extend our sense of a duty of care for the vulnerable and those who are on the margins of society.”

Let us build strong educational institutions that address the inequalities and hardships we face as a society and as a nation.

Leora Cruddas CBE

It may not be possible to enshrine into law the kindness we encountered – the kindness you showed to the children in your care and their families – but it is possible to choose to live by that kindness. Kindness was a key theme that permeated conference – from the Truly Civic panel to Owen Eastwood’s beautiful keynote on the importance of belonging.

Professor Hennessey goes on to say that this concept of a duty of care should again define us as we learn how to live in a post-pandemic world with such political, economic, and social uncertainty. I wish for this to be the basis of a new social contract with government and more widely with our parliamentary democracy.

Hennessy says: "The great question of UK politics … is whether we can find the pessimism-breaking policies, the people, the purpose, the language, and the optimism to shift [our current] system and replace it with something much closer to who we are and, above all, who we can be.”

But we do not need to wait for this political settlement – it is within our gift to find the people, the purpose, the language, and the optimism to shift our mental models, to see education as the building of who we can be.

Hennessey says: "We have sovereignty over our duty of care – how we express it in language, deed, and policy. It is a matter of shared purpose and sustained application. Above all, it is a question of spirit that casts aside pessimism.”

If we are to achieve this, it will require us to invest in the hard work of consensus building, focusing less on what it is that makes us different and on issues that can divide us.

Reflection is not an armchair activity – it involves analytical thought but also agency and action. How do we respond to widening gaps in educational attainment, to the terrible cost of child and family poverty, to worsening mental health and wider injustices and inequalities that are a feature of our modern lives?

As we approach the implementation of the Schools White Paper, as we formulate our responses to the Green Paper on special educational needs and alternative provision, as we think about the implications of Josh MacAlister’s Care review, we should think hard about the behaviours and actions we need to enact as professionals. This is essential if we are to see education as the building of who we can be.

The review of commissioning and regulation (which we hope will bring sharper legislative drafting to the Schools Bill) is an important moment for us to ensure that we have the right policy levers and regulatory approach moving forward. We must retain the hallmark of the Trust movement – the independence and sovereignty of Trusts as charitable organisations that exist to run and improve schools. But we must also ensure that the state can act quickly in instances of education failure or where the safety and safeguarding of pupils are at risk, and to ensure regularity and propriety in the use of public money.

So, I’ll finish where my speech finished. Let us exercise our sovereignty as institutions but bind together in a common purpose. Let us build strong educational institutions that address the inequalities and hardships we face as a society and as a nation. But let those institutions work together in a single moral purpose – to advance education for public benefit – and to create social value for wider common good.