One of the highlights of my week, and there were a few, was tuning into the Camden Conversation with Steve Munby on Wednesday afternoon, where he talked about leading on the edge and shared his honest reflection of leadership challenges. I have known Steve for a number of years, and whilst I was a headteacher, I always looked forward to his annual keynote at the Inspiring Leadership conference, which was thoughtful, eloquent, humble and provocative. The Camden Conversation session not only considered Steve’s reflection on imperfect leadership and some of the fundamental shifts in the English education system, but he also described how school leaders altered and adapted their leadership, as the context changed. I know a number of heads were not able to join the session, but it was recorded (link at the end of the blog); so, if you have a quiet hour to listen to a complex subject made simple, I am sure you will find it provides a useful basis for self-study and personal reflection.

Steve Munby also referred to excellence and equity on more than one occasion, which resonates with our own Christine Gilbert’s Think piece, ‘Coming back stronger: leadership matters’, where Christine states that public understanding of inequalities in the system and the impact of poverty is stronger than ever, echoed in our Education Strategy, ‘We know that a system which is better for disadvantaged children is better for everyone’. Andreas Schleicher OECD Director for Education, who was the keynote at the AEPA conference on Friday, talked about poverty, that it need not be the ultimate destiny, the importance of social mobility, local collaboration and giving pupils from poorer backgrounds that one chance, which is often the catalyst and influence of a great teacher- Learning from the past looking to the Future.

A report out this week titled ‘Going Further’ produced by The Sutton Trust reports that the further education sector has an important role to play in social mobility. Young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds are much more likely to undertake further learning in the FE sector, rather than the traditional academic route of A levels and higher education. The research claims that FE plays a key role between compulsory level schooling and HE, providing important vocational and technical skills needed by employers in the labour market, as well as providing a potential path to higher level study for those who have chosen not to go down the academic route.

The recommendations include:

  • The long-term underfunding of post-16 education compared to schools should be reversed in this autumn’s Comprehensive Spending Review.
  • The Trust is also calling for an extension of pupil premium funding to 16–19-year-olds to ensure that disadvantaged pupils are properly supported in their studies (a point made strongly and reinforced by Andreas Schleicher).
  • The cohort of students currently in post-16 education have faced huge disruption and cancelled GCSE exams. There should be greater investment in education recovery funding for this group, and an extension of the National Tutoring Programme to post-16.

Last week, there was a Twitter debate where the media were blamed (by the DfE) for fuelling a belief that there will be a binary choice between A level and T levels, which brought into question BTEC qualifications; Tom Richmond tweeted, saying ‘BTEC students are more likely to drop out of uni’ which could easily be translated as ‘kids from poorer backgrounds are more likely to drop out of uni’-which, of course has nothing to do with the quality or value of the BTEC itself. Much to think about and include in our Post 16 approach locally, as we consider provision and pathways for those young people who do not gain GCSEs in English and Maths and the advice and options on offer to them as they leave school, but hopefully not education and training.

Topic: Camden Conversation
Date: Nov 10, 2021 03:51 PM London
Meeting Recording: Camden Conversation with Steve Munby
Access Passcode: ^76^hVFC

Jon Abbey

Managing Director of Camden Learning


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