Long Read: Why is Hinds suddenly letting teachers ‘get on with the job’?

Seismic is probably the best way to describe the impact that the changes set out by education secretary, Damian Hinds, on Friday will have on schools policy in this country. Tes reports.

It’s not just the sheer volume of what is being scrapped – from coasting measures to, regional schools commissioner school inspections and the end of performance data triggering forced academisation.It is that this package represents a screeching handbrake turn on central government’s long standing mission to “drive up standards” in England’s schools.

The changes may have been sold as ways of making life better for teachers and allowing schools a clearer accountability structure and the space to get on with the job. Actually they are about much more than that.

Anyone walking into the press room at Liverpool’s convention centre following Hinds’ speech on Friday afternoon may not necessarily have recognised the full significance of what had just been said. But they would have witnessed a ministerial media team looking mightily relieved. The education secretary had just taken a major gamble and apparently won.

Hinds’ changes could quite plausibly have been written up as the government going soft on school standards. It is a charge that previous secretaries of state would have done almost anything to avoid. Friday’s announcements, by contrast, almost seem to court such accusations.

In the event, most newspapers decided to focus their coverage on an entirely different part of the package. If the announcement of teacher sabbaticals on the same day was deliberately designed to draw attention away from the full implications of what Hinds was saying, then the spin was masterful. It worked. There may have been very little money committed to the the sabbatical plan but it still led the news.

Forced academisations based on performance data alone will end. High-stakes DfE floor and coasting targets that can lead to schools being closed and taken over will instead be replaced by a new measure that will merely act as a trigger for support to be offered. And Ofsted, rather than the DfE, will be in sole charge of school accountability. 

“Ofsted is the body that can provide an independent, rounded judgement of a school’s performance,” Hinds said on Friday. “Data alone can’t tell the whole story.”

But why? Why would the DfE give up on the primacy of data and its own role as the key actor in trying to ensure that school results improve? The main reason is no secret and is spelt out loud and clear in the education secretary’s speech.

Hinds says he has an “urgent task” – “to look at the barriers that can drive teachers, and leaders, out of the profession and may put people off in the first place”. In other words, he has to sort out the teacher recruitment and retention crisis and do it quickly.

Read more about Damian Hind’s proposals and how they were greeted Long Read: Why is Hinds suddenly letting teachers ‘get on with the job’?

What do you think of his proposals? Please tell su your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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