Chalk Talk: Are champions ready for the challenge?

 

Off to the North of England education conference – the traditional curtain raiser of the year.

Although, to be precise, it's not quite the North of England education conference because it takes place in Nottingham, which, when I last consulted a map, was in the east Midlands.

Not to worry, though. There was one year when the North of England conference took place in Cardiff. Perhaps the organisers should rename it the North of Watford education conference. Thankfully, it's returning to Manchester next year.

It was the usual assembly of the great and the good in education – the Labour shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt; the chief schools inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw; and the Schools Minister, David Laws.

With a historian (Hunt) in opposition to an erudite scholar (Michael Gove), I suppose it was odds-on that we would start with a history lesson.

Hunt did not fail us. He started by referring back to 1642, when King Charles I chose Nottingham to raise his standard against what he perceived to be "a dangerous clique of zealous ideologues, bent on centralising authority, imposing unwelcome forms of discipline and with a very divisive view of the saved and the fallen".

"Not so very different from public policy today," suggested Hunt. There were no prizes for guessing what he was getting at.

It was good to a see the return of John Dunford, the former general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, who is now the Government's National Pupil Premium Champion.

The word champion was much in evidence last week, with the unveiling of a new scheme involving what the Deputy Prime Minsiter, Nick Clegg, calls a "champion's league" of head teachers. The 100 high-performing heads, David Laws revealed, will be held in readiness to take over the headships of schools in challenging circumstances.

Whether it will work is not clear, according to Dunford's successor as general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Brian Lightman.

Heads are, it seems, now more reluctant to take on challenging schools because of the fear of being sacked if results don't improve quickly enough.

There's also the matter of what will happen at the schools they leave, which will still require good leadership.

That's the story of the conference this year. Roll on Manchester next year.

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