Refusing to accept the facts

Ed Balls, the Children and Schools Minister, announced yesterday that head teachers from successful grammar and faith schools will be ‘encouraged’ to take a more active role in the management of failing schools. This ‘encouragement’ will come in the form of new system of ‘rewards and incentives’, with the potential for some of these ‘super-heads’ to earn over £200,000 a year.


The logic behind many political decisions is often confounding, but this must rank as one of the most depressing examples. It also confirms the suspicions that Ed Balls is a dangerously inadequate Secretary of State.


Needless to say, the unwritten law of public sector pay dictates that once the bar is raised in this way, the pay of all will steadily rise. But what is more important, and more worrying, is that presented with the fact that grammar and faith schools do better than other state schools, Mr Balls has chosen not to consider why this really is – the fact that such schools represent the most independent part of the state education system – but to focus instead on ‘rewards and incentives’ for 500 individuals.


There is no question that successful head teachers offer a valuable resource, and their experiences and methods should be shared.  But luring them into more active involvement in the administration of failing schools is not the answer to the UK’s education problems. The reason why these head teachers are able to be successful is that they run those schools that are most free from the obsessive meddling of both central and local government – grammar and faith schools. These head teachers are the nearest thing the state sector gets to genuine ‘head-teachers’, to a chief executive of a school, rather than an embattled bureaucrat struggling to implement the endless stream of government initiatives.


The sub-text of Mr Ball’s announcement is that there is a shortage of decent head-teachers. In this he is right. But simply relying on stretching the few successful ones we do have over multiple schools side-steps the real and pressing issues that cripple the education system.  Head-teachers need more independence, not more money, and the governments’ refusal to accept this ensures a continued sub-standard education for thousands of children. 

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