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CEO calls for change in ‘league table mentality’

Following its recent calls for the main political parties to commit to protecting school autonomy, the City Learning Trust Centre for Leadership has put forward recommendations to move our education system from good to great.

Speaking at the British Library on 19 March, Carl Ward, chief executive, City Learning Trust, Stoke-on-Trent, said: “We must set up a system that allows discipline and entrepreneurship in education to coexist.

“Government should encourage smaller Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) to become autonomously connected to successful MATs and share resources, systems and governance procedures.

“Education policy must also be co-constructed jointly by politicians and professionals through an education committee, similar to the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, then this would become the ‘beating policy heart’ of education – independent of government and the profession.”

Mr Ward has suggested a number of reforms to improve the system:

  • The establishment of an education policy committee
  • A tiered approach for smaller multi academy trusts (MATs) to connect to successful MATs
  • Suspension of the league table system to encourage collaboration rather than competition
  • Reform of the current system, which is norm-referenced, to allow all schools the opportunity to achieve greatness and to avoid many being labeled below average

On the question of how to manage competition so that it does not stifle collaboration, Mr Ward highlighted the story of ‘Silicon Valley’.

“At the same time the San Francisco Bay Valley was set up, another ‘Silicon Valley’ was set up on the other side of America – which failed. The reason apparently was simple – the weather.

“At the end of a given working day, the weather was so temperate that employees from different companies socialised with each other and shared developments. This led to the development of an outward facing culture where everyone kept improving because knowledge was freely shared.

“In Silicon Valley terms, we need to create ‘weather’ that encourages collaboration rather than competition. How can we reform the league table mentality and system? The answer lies in the way OfSTED uses league table data, how government publishes such data and how schools react.”

The DFE has indicated there are two and a half thousand MATs currently operating and this number is growing, with examples of triumph and disaster in this new landscape all around.

In New Zealand, the government is considering suspending elements of their external assessment system for two years to allow a self-improving system to develop in an environment where the educational ‘weather’ is favourable.

Mr Ward continued: “The education system in England is arguably in the best state it has ever been, so the challenge is to get to great, or world-class, not merely remain at good. To do this, the development of a self-improving system over the next five years is crucial.”

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The City Learning Trust benefits all of our children through a shared vision, the highest aspirations and expectations, intelligent deployment of resources and expertise through a collaborative working model and an outward-looking philosophy.

Chris Crook

Headteacher, Smallthorne Primary School