Overhauling every aspect of education at same time was ‘madness’ – school leader

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The ‘sheer weight and complexity’ of recent reforms has put an ‘intolerable’ pressure on schools, ASCL president Carl Ward is warning.

Reforming England’s entire education system at the same time was “madness”, it has been suggested (David Davies/PA)

It was “madness” to overhaul every aspect of England’s education system – from exams to the curriculum – at the same time, a school leader is warning.

The “sheer weight and complexity” of recent reforms has put an “intolerable” pressure on schools, according to Carl Ward, president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

A complete revamp of England’s education system has taken place in recent years, a move that started under former Education Secretary Michael Gove.

In his speech to the union’s annual conference in Birmingham on Friday, Mr Ward, who is also chief executive of City Learning Trust, a group of schools in Stoke-on-Trent, will say that there should be a long-term plan for the education system that is not affected by a “ministerial merry-go-round” and short-term politics.

Carl Ward, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, will be speaking to the union’s annual conference in Birmingham (ASCL/PA)
Carl Ward, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, will be speaking to the union’s annual conference in Birmingham (ASCL/PA)

“Every single GCSE has changed. Every single A-level. The primary school curriculum and Key Stage 2 assessment. Performance tables overhauled and rendered quite bewildering.

“Any one of those reforms would be a major undertaking. To have embarked upon them all at the same time has been madness.


“The consequences are all too clear. We are mired in a teacher recruitment and retention crisis which is fuelled largely by the negative perception of our profession caused by this blizzard of change and workload which has gone into overload.”

Mr Ward will also say: “This ministerial merry-go-round and its accompanying carousel of changing policies and directional swerves is a problem.

“It’s a problem because education is not short-term. Children spend longer in primary school than most governments spend in office.”

He will set out proposals for schools, colleges, businesses and the Government to work together to develop a long-term plan for education.


“This is not a power grab,” he is expected to tell the conference.

“It is an attempt to establish a different way of behaving which reconciles the entirely proper role of government in setting education policy, with the need to ensure that policy serves the long-term interests of the country and its young people. To break free from the short-term cycle of parliamentary politics.”

“Teachers’ jobs are not just difficult because the world is changing, it’s also made more difficult by years of moving the goal posts in public policy,” he will say.

“Those failures have culminated in today’s debate between the extremes of rigorous testing on the one hand, and the rounded development of a young person on the other.

“It’s a false dichotomy, and one set in the context of our schools’ system, where not enough money is allocated in public budgets.

“It’s time to reset the debate. End the parade of government announcements that make a good headline but don’t make a jot of difference on the big issues.

“Of course, academic achievement matters. But alone, it’s not enough for the exciting world we face – in work, or in wider society.

“Schools have been saying this for years, and so has the CBI. Attainment and wider preparation for adult life go hand-in-hand.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “This Government’s long-term reforms are about providing a world-class education for young people, whatever their background, and they are working.‎

“Thanks to the hard work of teachers, there are now 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools than in 2010, the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers is falling and our young readers now rank among the world’s best.

“We must further raise our game to be fit for the future which is why we are introducing new gold-standard GCSEs and new technical qualifications like T-levels which will be on a par with A-levels, providing genuine choice for young people.”

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