Six weeks into my role and I am ready to write my first blog: an exciting opportunity in itself, but even more so to be doing it during an election period!
As a civil servant, you usually spend election periods planning for whatever the election outcome might be, and your job is to be ready to serve the government and ministers of the day from the moment they take office. So it’s really interesting for me during this election to be able to engage in the debate in a different way.
Over the last few years, education has become much more of a hot topic in elections: it’s a key way of setting out your vision for the country and demonstrating your values. In this election, we’ve already seen parties clash, debate, and trade positions: on the role of institutions like Ofsted, on behaviour and exclusions, on adult learning, and on the budgets they want to invest in the education system.
My view is that, in all of this, we need to make sure we remember what makes the biggest difference to children’s outcomes in school: our educators.
Evidence and research¹ shows us that improving teaching and school leadership are the two most important factors, within a school’s control, to improving disadvantaged pupils’ outcomes and closing the attainment gap.
This evidence has been echoed by Andreas Schleicher, Education Director of the OECD, commenting on the release of the latest PISA international school rankings.
The UK has made positive progress since the last analysis in 2015 – but, at the current rate of improvement, Mr Schleicher said it would take “a very long time” for the UK to catch up with the highest achieving countries.
What does he suggest to help accelerate our system improvement? More investment in teachers’ skills.
Investing in teachers and leaders is the single best thing we can do for the children who will pass through the corridors of our schools.
It’s vital we ensure every teacher in the country has the skills and expertise to support the pupils they serve.
That’s what drives our work at Ambition Institute.
"Investing in educators is a crucial way of investing in the long-term future of our education system, and therefore our country’s future prosperity and global position. "
We have seen first-hand the positive impact of investment in CPD when it is planned and executed well. We think carefully about what we teach, how to teach, and in what sequence – to ensure educators receive the same level of care and detail in their own professional development that they put into the lessons they teach their pupils. Teachers and leaders all deserve excellent professional development.
The difference that expert teachers can make is significant, and leaders play a vital role in creating the right climate where teachers can do their best work. The work of school leaders in supporting and developing teachers is essential, and this impact can be multiplied further still at trust and system level.
Working together, these professionals enable pupils to have access to the quality of education which means they can thrive in the future.
We can see the impact of investment in educators working in the most disadvantaged areas through reports such as the recent Fair Secondary School Index, published by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.
The Fair Secondary School Index uses an ‘adjusted’ model of the current league table by accounting for other factors such as percentage of pupils on Free School Meals. A fifth of schools saw their national league table position change by over 500 places.
It’s encouraging to us to see that three of the schools in the top ten are, or were recently, led by headteachers who had completed Ambition Institute’s Future Leaders programme, including the school rated number one in the country.
Having benefited from investment in their professional development, these school leaders - like so many other educators in our network - have paid it forward through their impact on their schools and pupils.
Investing in educators is a crucial way of investing in the long-term future of our education system, and therefore our country’s future prosperity and global position.
At Ambition Institute, we will always back teachers and leaders, and do our best to make sure they have the support they need to serve their children and communities to the best of their abilities.
But coming back to the upcoming election: whatever happens, we’re committed to working with partners across the education system in the future. I’m looking forward to serving educators across the country, including those in our network – both past and present – to help them to keep getting better.
I hope the government will work with the sector and support investment where it is proven to have the biggest impact – in the teachers and leaders who are so crucial to the success of our children and our country.
Hilary joined Ambition Institute in October 2019. Her previous civil service roles include Director of the Government Equalities Office, Director of Civil Service Learning, and Director of Strategy and Performance at the Department for Education.
The Sutton Trust, (2011) Improving the impact of teachers on pupil achievement in the UK – interim findings
Kenneth Leithwood, Alma Harris, David Hopkins, (2019) Seven strong claims about successful school leadership revisited