I was sorry I missed Adonis last year, so pleased to have made it for this year’s talk on “Where next?”
Back in the mid 1990s with the first national key stage 2 tests, there was a big sense of crisis about standards in schools. Performance ratings were pitiful; inner city comps no go areas for middle class parents; problems with teacher quality, teaching standards, recruiting enough teachers for the training places, let alone the schools; huge issues of governance, leadership, quality and investment. So the three objectives were:
1. Better quality teacher recruits
2. Cracking the problem of governance – systems, mainly
3. Big investment – getting rid of the old rosla blocks etc
Adonis thinks there was reasonable progress in all three of those areas. Better pay, golden hellos, GTP and Teach First all dramatically improved the quality and quantity of people going into teaching; but it was a WIP. There were barely 2 applicants per training vacancy in 2010: it is nearer 10 in countries with famous education systems, but in 1997 there was barely 1, which meant teaching was barely selective.
He moves on to talk about the academies policy, underlining that is was never about privatisation. High capacity governance is important but the kind of governors he had in mind would not want to be micromanaged by the LA, so they needed to have more freedom within the system. Weak governance and leadership also led to poor quality buildings and environment, so this needed to be addressed before there was any major capital investment to ensure good value. Adonis says that if he had been running free schools he would have ensured they did this by starting with a robust governance structure. Some of the free schools that have failed have been missing this: it’s vital to sustain the school leader, even if they are a brilliant and inspirational leader.
Adonis believed that the next priority should have been even more push towards better quality and more teachers; systematic removal of weak governance and relentless pursuit of the old academies system; much stronger work, training and technical routes for young people not intending to go to university. There should be clearer routes and career paths for these students, but the focus was on reforming the universities and their funding, and the push to get more young people into them. More apprenticeships and better careers advice; 35% go on to university, but only 8% go into apprenticeships. There should be more investment here, but Adonis admits they were too focused on raising school standards and reforming universities. There needs to be a dramatic improvement in the quality and quantity of apprenticeships, both in the public and private sector, and better careers advice and guidance, whereas the current government is dismantling even the very poor system that currently exists. Schools need to take unambiguous responsibility for the career paths of all their your people. Adonis thinks that every secondary school needs a senior leader, who won’t be a teacher, but who has really good knowledge of the local jobs market and excellent relationships with local businesses, to be able to encourage them to offer apprenticeships.
Work and train routes need to be created for the young people who are being systematically failed at the moment. More apprenticeships – pull; better advice and guidance – push. Endless focus on the curriculum and the assessment system recently has meant there is now a forgotten 50% who have very poor opportunities.