Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary

Today (Friday 30 April 2021), NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman will be addressing school leaders at the union’s AGM in Brighton and online.

The full text of his speech ‘Generation Hope, Generation Change’ follows:

Good afternoon, everyone.

It is with great pride that I talk to you all today.

The bravery and dedication of School leaders and their teams has seen education through what we hope will be the worst of the pandemic. Thank you to all in the profession for your support to the children and communities you serve. For me, being able to give voice to that dedication is an honour.

Our union has overcome the constraints and challenges of COVID and while we are all still meeting virtually, democracy in the NAHT is alive and well across Northern Ireland, Wales, and England.

Our AGM today has given us a platform to move forward.

The next stage is our Policy Conference in October. And our Conferences in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Between now and then, there is lots to do.

NAHT is in safe hands.

Thank you, Ruth, for your inspirational leadership as president this past year.

Thank you, Judith, for keeping our association solvent, in the most uncertain of financial times.
And our final farewell and thank you to Judy Shaw, our outgoing Immediate Past President. I know you will not be lost to us in the body of the Executive.

The Presidents in Northern Ireland & Wales, Graham Gault and Kerina Hanson, and your committees, for your activities on behalf of members in the devolved administrations. 

Thank you to all our branch and regional officials and representatives for your engagement today and throughout the year.

And to all the NAHT staff who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, and almost without complaint too!

Welcome to our new National Executive members.

Welcome to Paul Gosling, our new vice president.

Welcome to Tim Bowen, beginning his term as President.

All of you make NAHT the wonderful union that it is.

I look forward to working with you all this year– starting today.

But before we begin, we must take stock.

The atmosphere of the country is in a delicate state.

News bulletins and front pages carry the same stories:

  • Climate emergency and protests
  • The destructiveness of misogyny and sexual violence. A challenge to society exemplified by the me-too movement and the everyone’s invited website.
  • The Black Lives Matter protests giving voice to the oppression caused by inequality and racism.
  • Voices stoking religious fear and intolerance
  • Adults and big businesses afraid to be responsible - especially the tech giants, who should demonstrate their ‘duty of care’
  • Brexit – a threat to business - even a threat to peace in Northern Ireland
  • The Pandemic and all of its many awful consequences

AND

  • A Government beset by allegations of malpractice and sleaze.

 

The adults in power are not making a good job of stewarding our lives – our country - our planet - for the generations to come.

They are not setting a good example.

And young people are watching.

 

 

Generation Hope, Generation change…

It is no coincidence that many of the campaigns I have mentioned are spearheaded by young people who are inspirational to those still in education.

They have looked at the adults and they have found us wanting.

In their eyes, they are not the generation lost to Covid so freely depicted to mask political failure.  

They are Generation Hope.

They are Generation Change.

Our job is help them make a better fist of it  than we have done. Not to try to put things back the way they were.

Our job is to live up to their ambitions . Not to limit them by our standards.

I’m happy to put my faith in them.

We should seek to match their aspirations

Fair enough, the adults have accomplished some great things.

The vaccine roll-out in this country gives us hope, for example.

But in so many other ways, we have not done enough.

We were young once, even me.

I am a product of the late 1970s and 1980s state education system that our President reflected upon earlier. And I can’t help feeling that I am watching a repeat of those times:

I see parallels between the Brixton Riots and Black Lives Matter, because of the social injustice that motivated them both.

The Yorkshire Ripper was convicted in 1981, the fear of that period highlighted societies problems, and yet we still find the violence of men leading to tragedies like the murder of Sarah Everard.

I remember the demonstrations against the unfairness of the Poll Tax.

The Climate protests show that people are still prepared to stand up when they see injustice and incompetence.

Just as in the 70’s and 80’s, the political landscape is familiar:

  • An often uncaring and out of touch administration (although even Thatcher didn’t condone piling up bodies in the streets. I genuinely hope that story is not true.)
  • An opposition recovering from defeat and looking to reconnect.

 

In the past forty years the UK has  had Tory, Labour, even a coalition in government.

Everyone has had a go. No-one has really cracked it.

We have to ask, ‘how well has our national politics served our national interest?’

Not very well, if the views of the younger generation are anything to go by.

During this time, Education has sometimes found itself at the top of the agenda, with funding and focus to match.

We need to bring that back again in 2021.

Since 2010, the government has allowed funding to be eroded and bureaucracy to get in the way. 

If the young people of ‘generation hope’ are to succeed, the very least we can do is learn from past failures and successes to give them the tools they will need.

Starting with a world class education.

Their welfare, their prospects, their potential –

That is all that should concern us.

RECOVERY

Across the political spectrum there is agreement that more needs to be done to support children.

There is agreement that this will take extra time and extra resources.

We will know what the government’s approach will be in a few weeks, when Sir Kevan Collins’s report is published.

I am pleased that from what we know about his thinking so far, his approach is sympathetic to what NAHT has been saying. To be frank it would be a disappointment if it was not, he has been talking to the very education experts NAHT represents, and not just the ones that agree with him. Government take note.

TUTORING

We know that the government favours tutoring programmes.

Several hundred million pounds has been ploughed into getting this started.

The scheme is in its infancy and yet to be proven on a national scale, but it has potential.
We have been telling government that they need to provide greater funding and flexibility to schools if that potential is to be realised. .

It appears that the Governments recovery Tsar agrees. saying:

The government must be open to different ways for schools to access this provision – not just the market

Schools could be allowed to bring people forward who they already know and work with to become tutors

LONGER SCHOOL DAYS

We know that a ‘longer school day’ is hugely attractive to ministers

There is a simplistic logic: Children and young people  have missed lots of school – let’s put more hours in

We should be extremely careful about this.

The evidence in support is limited at best. – children may have missed hours of school, but their capacity to learn is no greater now than it was a year ago.

Even if longer school days are suggested, it is most definitely not a question of cramming them just with English and maths.

Here, Kevan Collins is on the same page as NAHT again:

He says that he’s not thinking about “bolting something on” but creating a “broader range of experiences”, including the non-academic.

He also says that he would “never advocate” increasing the number of hours taught by teachers “without increasing the amount of pay that teachers receive”.

Now there is a novel idea, paying educational professionals more when you ask them to do more. 

However, if the school day is lengthened, leaders will see workload increase too. They will be ones who have to manage and administer whatever is demanded.

If the government’s recovery commissioner’s wishes are to be honoured, then any leader who is working extra, should be paid extra too.

But it’s not all about pay. Teachers and school leaders work long hours already. More money will not take away the stress and fatigue that already blights the profession. I am simply not convinced that capacity exists in the system.

There’s another reason why the government should be wary of the superficially attractive longer school day…

Only one in five parents prefers the idea of longer schools days to help their child catch up.

Parents prefer the idea of extra tutoring and support for wellbeing as their preferred ways for schools to help pupils succeed  up after the pandemic.

That is NAHT’s preference too.

So, I would strongly encourage the government to follow the evidence on this one, and do what is right for children not just what they think will play well in the papers.

NAHT knows that the most effective thing you can do to ‘turbo-charge’ the recovery mission is to have high quality teaching going on in schools.

If you want to attract the best graduates, you have to make teaching a competitive career choice designed to keep good people for decades not years.

Governments across the UK need to start to genuinely appreciate the profession not give it a regular kick in when it needs a distraction from its own failures. They need to offer attractive salaries and create a work environment that is rewarding, where people feel appreciated and not subjected to unnecessary and oppressive levels of regulation and stress.

So, what else needs to happen?

We need better support for early career teachers.

In England The Early Career Framework  is a start, but is needs proper investment.

Newly Qualified Teachers across the UK will be starting this Autumn in particularly difficult circumstances.

They will need to respond to the multiple additional challenges presented by prolonged pupil absence from school, at a time when their own training will have been severely disrupted and curtailed by the pandemic.

This year, more than any other, it is essential that the governments across the UK guarantee that all schools will have sufficient funding to develop and support their staff, whilst providing easy access to high quality training providers.

What’s more, the government should extend the commitment to funded support for new and recently qualified teachers to all teachers and leaders by 2025, as part of a new CPD entitlement for all.

TEACHING SCHOOL HUBS

We have seen the government look to teaching school hubs to support teacher development. However, what really matters is that all teachers and leaders have access to  to high quality support and training regardless of where they are in the country.

Currently there are too many cold-spots when it comes to provision.

There are many teaching schools who may not have the capacity to act as a new ‘hub’ but could continue to play an important role in their area.

They should not be cast aside.

Support, Pay and Teacher Quality are interlinked.

Nothing makes more difference to the quality of education a pupil receives than the quality of the staff member stood in front of them.

Proper support and a career-long entitlement to professional development are an absolute essential to maintain quality.

Fair pay throughout your career means you won’t be tempted by other professions that are higher wage or lower stress.

But there is more the government must do on pay:

The pay freeze for current staff is tin-eared and wrong-headed.

No government should design policies where public servants are paid less and less year on year.

Similar pressures exist in Wales and NI. With our operations there working hard to solve problems through recent Pay and conditions devolution in Wales and following a long term dispute in Northern Ireland. 

Governments must:

  • Restore pay to pre-austerity levels
  • Establish a pay continuum covering all leadership roles
  • Resolve pay inequalities and restore the pay differential for leaders
  • AND - COVID has highlighted how important School Business Leaders are – the SBL workforce requires recognition and investment – we support a review of the leadership pay structure aligning SBL pay with other leadership roles.

TAKEN FOR GRANTED

No school leader I have  met anywhere in the UK cites financial reward as the reason for choosing to work in education.

But that should not give the government the right to take school leaders for granted.

But that is what the government does, and that is why the leadership supply line is in crisis.

Too many experienced leaders are looking to leave, too few middle leaders aspire to headship.

We need to work on reducing stress and attrition in leadership roles.

We need to end the centralised diktats from government that sap the expertise, energy, and life out of leadership.

There is an urgent need for the DfE to consider the key priorities for school leaders over the coming year.

Let me tell you what I mean.

PRIMARY ASSESSMENT  AND PERFORMANCE DATA

Significant changes are still coming online:

New Baseline,

Early Learning Goals,

Multiplication Check

– we urge the govt to reconsider the impact of bringing all this in in one go.

We must also break the toxic link between assessment and high stakes accountability.

We have successfully ensured that there are no school or college level educational performance tables published in 2020 and 2021. Government agreed with us that Primary School SATs were not appropriate in the circumstances and to their credit they finally cancelled them. 

The sky did not fall in, children have received no less care, effort and expertise from schools. Schools were free from perverse incentives to concentrate on the child.

So do we need it all back the way it was?

No we don’t.

SECONDARY ASSESSMENT

The impact of the pandemic has starkly shown how our exams-based system cannot stand any disruption.

The government’s refusal to discuss a plan B at the earliest opportunity has hampered the efforts of schools and colleges to manage the alternatives.

For students sitting exams in 2022, there must be adaptations to account for disruption to their learning too and there must be a clear plan B in place by the end of the summer term this year.

ACCOUNTABILITY

This is an area where we really need to make progress.

During the pandemic we saw very starkly which parts of the system were essential and which were not.

Pausing  inspections was the right thing to do – from a safety point of view if nothing else.

But without inspection, have things ground to a halt?

No, they have not.

Schools have continued to do what is right, to the best of their ability. And they have been hugely successful.

Now I am not going to take an easy swing at Ofsted here. As popular as that may be. We had our differences throughout the pandemic  but the broad narrative from the inspectorate supported the efforts and success of schools, pointed out that we were asking too much of them in addition to their core function and reassured us that schools remained high quality institutions.  Despite the easy attacks on the profession voiced in the media by some politicians and commentators   used to hide government indecision.

Since 2018 we have been proposing a new role for inspection focused on identifying failure and providing stronger diagnostic insight for schools that are struggling.

Too often, securing an ‘outstanding’ judgement has become a goal in its own right, rather than been seen as a snapshot description of where a school is on a continuous journey of improvement.

That is why we still think we should abandon the ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted judgement.

This new course has been charted in NAHT’s Improving School Accountability Report.

Our door is open.

If the leaderships of the UKs inspectorates, Ofsted, Estyn and the ETI want to create inspection models across the UK that drive improvement over compliance, that serve children not systems, they know where to find us.

OTHER PRIORITIES

PUPIL MENTAL HEALTH

The pandemic has increased some young people’s needs just as it has slowed the limited progress that has been made on this important issue.

In order for schools to fulfil their primary role as educators, other sectors such as social care, CAMHS and healthcare need to be supported to fully step back into their own roles.

SAFEGUARDING

Recent events - such as the revelations from the Everyone’s Invited Website – clearly show that there is an urgent need to ask ourselves what more we can do to prevent sexual harassment and violence now and in the future. Schools have a significant role to play. But the issues we face as a society go way beyond the schools gates.

It is for all pupils to learn about healthy relationships, consent and equality.

The introduction of RSHE for all pupils was a welcome move but more needs to be done. And there are still some ambiguities in government guidance that is unhelpful – we believe that RSHE in primary schools should include LGBT content as set out in the statutory guidance that has already been published for example.

No ifs, no buts.
Colleagues in Wales have secured an unambiguous approach, it can be done.

Safeguarding is a school’s number one priority.

They cannot be left to shoulder this responsibility alone.

Respecting rights and understanding responsibility leads me to comment on the THE SEWELL REPORT

The findings of the Sewell Report into equality and institutional racism appear so regressive.

It does not reflect the lived experiences of so many people in this country

In fact, the report is an insult to those people.

The report’s recommendations will  not make a meaningful positive difference to the working lives and careers of people in the UK.

In a profession that still has so much to do to be truly representative of the communities we serve, from the platform of a union that knows it too has much to do to be fully representative NAHT will not take any encouragement from the report’s findings.

In fact we are doing more than we ever have to give voice to the communities of leaders that we all need to hear and we will soon publish the stories of many school leaders to illuminate the issues.

Until such time that the government wakes up to the issues, schools will always be fighting racism and striving for equality with one hand tied behind their backs.

I suspect that Generation Change will take this one out of our hands, to be honest.

Whilst the grown-ups argue amongst themselves, they’ll just act.

And they’ll be right to do so.

MONEY

I cannot go any further without talking about money.

The government’s spending commitments for education looked unambitious before the COVID crisis – now they look woefully inadequate.

The EPI says that we should be looking at an extra £10-£15 billion per year.

The government’s current ceiling is set at £1.7bn.

And, as inadequate as this is, the government is also intent on clawing back funding from schools.

They have saved millions by changing the date that Pupil Premium data was collected.

The government should come clean immediately about this saving.

They should instantly repay all that they have taken from school budgets in this way.

And they should fully reimburse schools and colleges for every penny of what has needed to be spent on COVID secure measures.

It is an absolute scandal that this bill has not been met by the government and is instead being picked up by schools themselves.

Most leaders I speak to say that if only the government would give them the money they need, they’d spend every penny properly and with probity.
And I know this will be a hot topic at our Wales and NI Conferences too.

THERE IS LOTS TO DO

I read a piece in the TES recently that discussed union power in the face of change and bemoaned the lack of calls for strike action at this spring’s educational conference season.

Well you won’t find a call from strike action in this speech.

It’s the wrong premise.  To enter a pivotal moment, to try and grasp essential change from a position of open conflict is not strength, its weakness.
Commentators love it when trade union general secretaries talk tough and especially when they use the word strike.
Don’t misunderstand me, NAHT is prepared to act, and in recent years we have had to be tough, we have had to confront the misuse of power and we have had use the force of the law, the influence of mass campaigning and yes the NAHT has even organised industrial action on behalf of members. It was all successful by the way. But so unnecessary.

NAHT is reasonable - not rebellious or stupid.

We give freely of members’ expertise and advice. Provide robust challenge when we see things that are wrong, not to frustrate but to improve plans and outcomes.

We have grown by nearly 18% with a huge boost during the pandemic. Educators seeking protection and the strength of a collective voice.

Our voice now represents over 45,000 education professionals, including 33,000 serving school leaders and the strength of that voice cannot be dismissed.

So I appeal to government listen to the experts - all 45,000 of them.

I started my speech reflecting on the similarities between the 1980s and today.

Let’s not seek the confrontation of the past but solutions for the future.

There’s too much here for one government to do on its own in one parliament, or for the government to expect school leaders to do overnight and without sufficient support.

We will only get this done by working together.

NAHT has always sought to work with the government of the day.

But this current administration makes it very hard to do that.

Their approach –

of rigid refusal to move with the times,

of lip-service ‘consultation’

and of centralised diktat – must come to an end.

Ministers have started to enjoy their COVID emergency powers too much.

As a profession, we should reject this most strongly and resist any attempts to impose particular ways of teaching, particular suppliers of content or support, and particular structures for schools. Leaders and teachers are the experts in education, not politicians. I have no doubt that parents trust you more than they do any government minister.

Let’s not get distracted by debates over structure. We must support and fund schools wherever they are. Multi Academy Trusts or Local Authorities.

We strongly disagree with the government that there is no good practise to be found in Local Authorities. The pandemic shows us that great schools exist wherever you look. Equally innovative and responsive.

Pupils and parents don’t care about structures. They care about standards.

Structures and standards are not the same thing.

FINALLY

I am nearly done. I have covered a lot of ground here.

But that is because education touches every part of life in the UK.

That is why it is so crucial to get it right.

If we don’t, we have seen what will happen.

Generation Hope and Generation Change will do it for themselves.

But that is not something to be resisted or stopped. It is something   the governments of the UK  must recognise and engage with.

There is disquiet. But this is because young people are finding their voice.

That is a good thing. We should listen to what they have to say.

There is unrest. But that is because young people are not content with the status quo and they want change.

To the politicians of the UK, I say this – there is no place for violent protest, of course, but don’t work against the wishes and the rights of young people.

Give them wings.

And give schools and colleges the resources they need to teach them to fly.

All our futures depend on it!

Thank you.

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary 

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