I delivered this speech to the Brent School Governors’ Conference yesterday. It received a warm response, so I thought I’d share it online…
This Conference is about “The challenge of being challenging.”
But what do we really mean by challenge?
Scrutinising data, driving progress, pushing improvement. These all matter hugely.
But for me, the ultimate challenge is to uphold values in education.
As the schools system fragments and elements become more market-focused, the emphasis on targets and league tables will intensify.
We must ensure that the values which underpin education are not lost.
Education is the most powerful force in the world.
Education enables us to break the traps of cynicism, poverty and discrimination.
Education is how we take children from the most down-trodden and broken homes – and give them a better future.
Targets, data and league tables are fundamental to ensuring these children get real educational development.
But these school improvement mechanisms must not replace values and conviction.
They must be underpinned by values and conviction.
Everything we do in school improvement must directly come back to the question:
“How will this help children to have a better life?”
And we should unashamedly start with the children who face the biggest barriers and receive the least support at home.
Three specific examples:
We should provide greater support for consistently under-achieving groups without any concern for political correctness.
In particular, the ongoing underachievement of Black Caribbean boys continues to sentence these pupils to a life of struggle.
We should encourage more family learning, particularly targeting those communities where extended family networks are weak.
And we should encourage our schools to work more closely in partnership with early intervention agencies. Not just social services in crisis cases, but with Children’s Centres and the Council’s new Working with Families Team, to prevent crises arising.
All schools do each of these things to an extent, and the best of our schools do them all brilliantly. But they must become the lynchpins of how we challenge our schools to improve – with values at their heart.
And when I say “we”, I don’t mean “we, the Council.” I mean “we, School Governors.”
In a fragmented system, Councils have less power. Frankly, we also have much less money – which in the real world translates into less influence. The Council will retain an important role, but the baton must now be passed to Governors.
And nowhere is this passing of the baton more important than in upholding values in education.
As Governors, none of us are paid. We don’t do this for money, we do it because of our own values.
Some of us want to support their children’s learning. Some want to represent their fellow staff. Some want to help out in their community. And some want to put their political conviction or religious faith into practice.
We are all Governors because education is a vital part of our values. That makes us the ideal people to defend the importance of values in education.
For me, education is about liberating talent, destroying disadvantage and building a better future.
Whatever education is for you, I hope you will ensure that it remains at the heart of everything you do – and everything your school does.
School improvement is vital. But it is equally vital that it is underpinned by values.
And that is our biggest challenge as Governors today.