Everything, everywhere, all at once

The education sector is no stranger to change. In recent years, planned reforms to the education system, which has become increasingly fragmented, have been layered with forced responses to the pandemic. As a consequence, fragmentation has become even more exaggerated. It has led to discordant and unconnected initiatives which place further pressure on a system which is in danger of losing sight of its purpose for children and young people. As one colleague recently described it, “education is everything everywhere, all at once!” As the national political parties ready themselves to set out their visions for the country, including the education system, the ADCS Education Policy Committee has worked with ADCS members across the country to outline what we see as the key issues and areas of focus, hoping to give local insight to national policy makers.

Our engagement with members across ADCS has highlighted that education is not only a fundamental right for all children and young people, but also central to achieving a more equal society where every child is given the opportunity to pursue their interests and achieve their potential. I know from first-hand experience that a good education can be transformative, both academically and socially, and offers children a strong sense of belonging but I worry that the competing priorities faced by many schools make this an ideal rather than reality for too many children and school teams. Competition can be a healthy motivator and all schools should be striving to secure the best outcomes for their pupils, but this has been intensified by a shifting accountability system focussed almost entirely on academic attainment and less on collaboration between local schools. This competition sees schools in challenging areas losing great teachers and too many young people shifted around different establishments to avoid data dips with no one taking responsibility for their future because they are not incentivised to do so.

Beyond schools, our early years and further education sectors have also suffered from a lack of long-term strategy and adequate funding which limits their unique role in improving social mobility. It should come as no surprise that we are seeing more and more children and young people who are less engaged with the education system - rising school exclusions and increasing levels of persistent absenteeism are just two examples of this and sadly, this disengagement is more acute for children who are from disadvantaged backgrounds. Now is the time to ask ourselves, what is education for and how does it meet the needs of children and young people today?

I am excited that we will be publish ADCS’s vision for a future education system at the NCAS Conference in October, calling for greater coherence to a sector that is struggling to place children at its heart despite a hugely dedicated workforce trying hard to so. Amongst other things, we will demonstrate the importance and value of place based partnerships which support strong collaboration driven by a shared moral purpose. A growing body of evidence suggests that this approach improves outcomes for those children and young people who are increasingly marginalised by the current high stakes system – something that is very much needed. I look forward to the vision being shared nationally and the opportunity to establish a direction for the education sector that has children and young people at its heart.

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