“System leaders need to support schools to think more often, more deeply and more radically about their mission. Whilst systems can be far better at creating the enabling conditions and cultures for innovation, schools need to take ultimate responsibility for their own ethos. Inevitably, this points to a significant leadership challenge at all levels. We need leadership which has authentic conviction about the potential for education as humanity’s best hope; and which can both assemble and communicate a compelling case for change. We need leaders who understand that this is not a quest to converge on a single solution; leaders who have the political savvy to create the legitimacy for radical change, and who draw on international networks as a source of imaginative ideas rather than prefabricated policies.”
THE POLICY CONTEXT FOR THE ENGLISH SCHOOLING SYSTEM
Over the past 20 years or so, the English schooling system has undergone significant changes as successive central governments have created a policy context which has systematically eroded the direct relationship between local authorities and state funded schools. This process of erosion has rapidly accelerated since 2010 with the Department’s increasing focus on the academisation of schools and the promotion of Multi Academy Trusts as the systemic answer to improving school standards.
As a result, what McKinsey’s second major report on school systems called “the mediating layer” and we in the UK have termed “the middle tier,’ has undergone significant changes as the traditional single player role of the local authority has been replaced by an increasingly complex and fragmented mixture of governance arrangements for individual schools or groups of schools. This fragmentation has been compounded by two additional factors namely, the introduction
STRENGTHENING THE MIDDLE: THE LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE
These shifts and changes to the governance and quality assurance of publicly funded schools has undoubtedly been challenging for local authorities and their teams coming alongside a period of over 10 years of sustained reductions in local government funding by central government.
Notwithstanding these challenges, our most recent work with a growing number of individual local authorities leads us to conclude that the English schooling system is maturing and the current zeitgeist is one of increasing numbers of interesting and innovative models of sector-led school improvement curated through intelligent leadership by local authorities.
The College has been privileged to work with a growing number of these developments all of which have 3 key features in common:
- Agreed common moral purpose
- Collective systemic accountability for all children and young people
- A commitment to achieving excellence through equity
The final ingredient has been the key leadership role of local authorities; promoting and nurturing the opportunities for open dialogue coupled with a deep appreciation that a school-led model of improvement which is designed by schools for schools is the most resilient solution for replacing fragmented centralism with connected localism.
The aim of this thematic is to explore these new models of school improvement by offering practical examples of and support materials for, models of school-led connected localism. These materials are organised into two strands:
- Research thinking for strategic leadership
- Case studies of practice
Our hope is that the combination of research thinking, examples of school-led initiatives and the lessons learnt whilst managing schooling systems during the COVID-19 pandemic, will form the backcloth for us to consider a new normal for schooling. A normal where collaboration and collective accountability for improving the lives of our children and young people create a systemic culture of common moral purpose; a normal of achieving excellence for all through equity with a relentless focus on continuous improvement so that no child or school is left behind.
Anton Florek (Series Editor)
“We believe that policymakers and other system leaders need to create platforms for collective agency amongst schools and teachers, incentivising them to use this agency to innovate in collaboration with others in a school community – including learners and parents, and also with the wider world of local communities, employers, and ‘edupreneurs’. The aim must be to return teachers to the front and center (sic) of the innovation process, but within a context that challenges both systems and teachers to grasp how public education must change to enable learners and institutions to thrive in the new conditions which confront them.”