Commentary

Looking forward into 2020: A lot to be positive about

Matt Davis

The dust is beginning to settle on a particularly gruelling election here in the UK. After having come back from a well-earned break, what does this mean for schools here in England? Regional Director for the UK, Matt Davis shares his thoughts.

While the Conservative manifesto was light on detail, it seems likely that continuity will be the name of the game. For the majority of the education workforce, there may not be an instinctive positivity about the new government. But in terms of policy, and the potential churn and challenge of radical change, maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world.

It’s easy to catalogue the problems. Budget pressures, teacher recruitment and retention and of course the stubbornly wide – and now widening – gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers are genuine cause for concern. 

But we should also take a minute to dwell on the positives. Our best schools really are world leading, and the tolerance for mediocrity which I experienced during my own schooling is largely a thing of the past. In many cases, this is testament to astonishing leadership. Particularly in England, a generation of school leaders have taken full advantage of the much-vaunted autonomy available to them to create schools which provide a truly great education. Equally the richness of the debate in England among teachers about teaching – in particular the potential lessons from neuroscience and cognitive psychology, and the use of evidence to inform practice – is better than anywhere. To mangle the quote, if an education system cannot be better than the quality of its teachers and leaders, then we’re in a really great place.

Gazing off into 2020 and beyond, there are at least a couple of really important changes coming. The most obvious is the Early Career Framework, rolling out to pilot areas in Greater Manchester, the North-East and Bradford and Doncaster from next September. It’s far from an original sentiment, but this single initiative has the potential to make an enormous difference to the quality of education in England. We’ve seen from our own Accelerate programme that high quality support for teachers at this stage of their careers makes a sizeable difference to their confidence, competence and attitude towards the profession. Done well, with schools and school leadership fully bought in to both the process and the underlying principles about effective teaching the ECF promotes, I’m sure we will see happier, more confident teachers and better outcomes for the kids in their classrooms.

The creation of the first Teaching School Hubs, rumoured to be announced shortly, is also interesting. At Education Development Trust we’ve been big fans of the Teaching Schools programme, working with some of the best around the country to deliver on our various programmes. But it’s beyond doubt that the current set up is less than optimal. Teaching Schools are not often enough found in the areas where schools most need their support, quality is variable, and the brief has wandered over time. Bringing groups of Teaching Schools together in this way has the potential to refocus the purpose, address the supply and demand mismatch and do some really exciting things in terms of area based school improvement approaches.

These initiatives chime really well with the priorities which we at Education Development Trust have set ourselves for the next year. We will continue working with our partners in government, in school and in the wider sector to make sure that:

  • Every teacher, at every stage of their career, has access to the high-quality support and professional development that they need to keep improving year on year.
  • Capacity is built into the system to make sure that every school leader has access to brilliant improvement support led by peers who understand their context.
  • Every school can join an effective, formal improvement partnership which will create the culture, insights and action to make sure all members keep getting better.

None of these priorities should be beyond the reach of a nation with our resources and commitment to education. If achieved, we think they would lead to a healthier and more effective education system. And most importantly, they’ve got very little to do with policy – the only things stopping us achieving these things is our willingness to do them.