Saturday, 5 February 2011

System Leadership - the difference a preposition can make

The Case for a “Full” Baccalaureate
Speaking to colleagues at the IAA conference over the past two days, it is clear that there is a palpable anger against the E-Bacc reform that the Coalition is trying to introduce.   True, there is talk of a “Tech-Bacc” which might be accepted alongside the E-Bacc.  However, this will not solve the central divisiveness of the latter, for the following reasons:

Firstly, it is likely to be available to relatively few students.  It may well be an excellent choice of subjects for students in one of the new UTCs or similarly well-equipped schools or academies.  However (and this does admittedly depend on the final format of the tech bacc), the equipment and teaching expertise needed to deliver it may preclude it from becoming a fully mainstream option.

The broader problem however is that it is likely to lead to a two-tier system anyway, where traditional and deep-rooted prejudices in our society lead to students who achieve the “E-Bacc” being seen as the most successful, with those accomplishing a “Tech-Bacc” being seen as gaining “the next best thing”.  For the same reason, let’s not propose a “Vocational Baccalaureate” either– that would almost inevitably be seen as a third-rate qualification behind the other two.

The solution is, I believe, a baccalaureate qualification to which all students can aspire, no matter what their individual interests or passions.  For an example of this, see my earlier blog post from the 13th January

An educational “Berlin Wall”
As time progresses, I believe that the E-Bacc has the capacity to become an educational “Berlin Wall”, dividing our students into two groups – those seen as “academic” (whatever that term really means), and those who are not.  The Berlin Wall itself lasted for nearly 30 years, and I would see the E-Bacc as having the potential to create a divide in our society that could potentially have similarly long-lasting consequences.

The key question is this: What can we do about it?

System Leadership – an ablative view
The currently understood definition of “system leadership” usually implies leadership of part of “the system”.  Thus we have several inspirational examples of such leadership today whereby a successful school or academy assumes responsibility and accountability for one or more weaker schools, transforming the opportunities and outcomes of many students as a result.

I believe that the challenge we face over the introduction of the E-Bacc however calls for system leadership of a different kind, one which is defined semantically by the ablative prepositions from or by.

Leadership from or by the system:
Many Headteachers feel that they have no choice other than, however reluctantly, to alter their schools’ curricula so that they can be seen to be making progress against what seems to be an inevitable new league table.  However, if at system level all secondary heads refused to go along with this, sticking instead to what they believed to be in the best interests of their students, then the new metric of the E-Bacc would quickly lose any power to force colleagues to take account of it.  Such leadership from or by the system would result in our being able to introduce a baccalaureate that was of real benefit to students.

So where do we go from here?
Over the next week, our Alliance for developing a high quality baccalaureate will be developing a set of core principles that we believe should underpin any new overarching qualification.  We would like as many Headteachers as possible to be able to sign up to these principles, whilst the details of the baccalaureate are being finally determined.

There are a number of ways in which you could contribute to this process.

1.     E-mail any comments to the following address: Please indicate if you would like to be informed of developments, and I will add you to a mailing list;
2.     If you are an academy principal, join the IAA (Independent Academies Association).  As an association, we have direct access to ministers, and are thus able to put forward members’ points of view to government;
3.     When the time is right to launch our Baccalaureate, we would like to do so from secondary schools and academies across the country.  If you would be willing to host such an event (possible at fairly short notice), please let me know via the fullbacc email address;
4.     Follow developments on Twitter.  The easiest way to do this is to join Twitter, and sign up to “follow” my “tweets”.  My profile is ASAprincipal

I look forward to engaging in further discussion with you all

Andrew Chubb

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