By Dr Jeffery Quaye, National Director of Education & Standards, Aspirations Academies Trust

For many, 2020 will be a year remembered for a series of life events that have caused turmoil.

From the Covid-19 pandemic, to the senseless and horrific death of George Floyd and the race protests that followed, and Joe Biden’s defeat of Donald Trump in the US elections, this year has seen the world sail through choppy waters.

A new year has started and as we remain optimistic about what will unfold in 2021, I passionately believe the Covid-19 disruption we are experiencing provides an opportunity for positive change. It provides us with the chance to create a different future – one where excellence and equity can shine.

As a leading educationalist and the National Director of Education & Standards for Aspirations Academies Trust, I have seen first-hand the disruptive impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on our schools.

Schools and MATs have had to grapple with the adaptive challenges encountered, including school improvement, in a context not experienced in recent times.

I spoke about this subject at the Virtual MAT Expo several weeks ago. The largest educational conference in 2020, the main aim of the event was to support collaboration and innovation in multi-academy trusts.

The conference brought together over 1000 senior leaders and educators in multi-academy trusts. Alongside us were education suppliers and the aim was to collaborate and innovate around focus areas such as estates and facilities, finance and operations, EdTech and digital innovation, and workforce, skills and recruitment.

The conference was particularly important because it provided a platform to share new practices, engage in best educational thinking and network with leaders in the field. Above all, the conference offered a unique opportunity to learn from peers.

Other prestigious speakers at the event included Sir Daniel Moynihan Chief Executive, Harris Federation; Julian Drinkall Chief Executive, Academies Enterprise Trust; Leora Cruddas Chief Executive, Confederation of School Trusts; Ann Palmer Chief Executive, Fig Tree International; Stephen Chamberlain Chief Executive, The Active Learning Trust; Lee Owston HIM, Deputy Director of Schools Ofsted among others.

The question that I raised and elaborated upon was: Just how do we lead for excellence and equity in these uncertain times & what part does education play in this process?

Dr Jeffery Quaye

Changing mindset & beliefs

Leading in uncertain times for excellence and equity: changing mindset and beliefs. Plagues and epidemics have ravaged humanity throughout its existence and changed the course of history. Examples include the 16th century American plagues, the Great Plague of London, Spanish Flu, HINI Swine Flu, Ebola and now Covid-19.

It is therefore important to recognise that with the disruption caused to education, leaders have to reframe with a renewed emphasis on excellence and equity in education so that practices account for some structures and patterns of disadvantage which inevitably will be exacerbated by the pandemic.

Effects of Covid-19

The effects of the pandemic have been manifold.

Our relationship with the Government has been re-orientated, schools and indeed businesses across the country have had to adapt quickly by employing technology to allow learning to continue and for people to carry on working.

In schools this has manifested itself through virtual learning with many using platforms such as Google classrooms, Microsoft teams, etc.

As the months have passed and we have become accustomed to working remotely, many of people now find comfort in working remotely and no longer miss as much the absence of colleagues in an office space.

The pandemic has also led to a new sense of patriotism but on a troubling note has exposed the deep inequality and rife poverty that exists in our 21st century society.

Why education is no longer an equaliser

Horace Mann, the 19th century American educational reformer, once declared ‘’Education, then beyond all other devices of human origin is a great equaliser of the conditions of men.’’

It is a belief that has carried through the centuries and earlier this year, Nick Gibb, the current Minister of State for School Standards, said ‘’Education plays a vital role in tackling inequality.’’

Yet, this currently cannot be said to be true in 2020 because social inequality including racism is blighting the life chances of many people. There are structural constraints and unequal access to resources in society which means schools can be a place of social reproduction. However, to disrupt the reproduction of class privilege through education, we have to recognise the primary mechanism of inequality that is linked to education success.

What is the purpose of education?

If we are to understand why excellence and equity in education is so important, we first need to explore the purpose of education.

Some of our greatest thinkers, educationalists and civil rights activists have provided definitions through the years.

In 1948, Martin Luther King Jr, declared: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be a man gifted with reason but no morals…We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

On his part, American philosopher John Dewey said in 1934: “The purpose of education has always been to everyone, in essence, the same – to give the young the things they need in order to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of society.”

In 2015, Nick Gibb, the current Minister of State for School Standards, said: ‘’Education is the engine of our economy. It is the foundation of our culture, and it’s an essential preparation for adult life.”

So why is equity in education so important?

The aim of school and education is for all pupils to achieve excellence through the provision of equal chances for success. In order to do this, it is important to understand the unique challenges and barriers faced by individual pupils and therefore provide additional support to enable these pupils to overcome them.

Equity goes beyond accessibility. Children provided with an equitable education would lead to better economic and social outcomes for them.

An equitable education thus enable pupils to develop the knowledge and skills to become a productive member of society.

It is without doubt that children from wealthier backgrounds usually have more opportunities for a successful adult life compared with children from poor families who have only one chance in life that is through a good education.

Educational inequalities have been a function of race and class. So policies developed and enacted at every level must have deep understanding to alleviate disparities in school.

How do we tackle the problems in order to provide equity and excellence in schools?

The concept of Framing is one of the approaches. Framing is the process a person uses to raise awareness of their assumptions or beliefs.  This is part of the process of positioning a school to champion excellence and equity in education.

I believe it is also a useful tool to help tackle the problems I have addressed so far. Framing would take the implicit beliefs that shape how people make sense of a situation and how they act and respond.

Also, reframing would allow us to look at words and actions that change the shape of others’ frames and ways of seeing an issue or challenge within an organisation.

I like to draw here on expert tools developed by McKinsey & Company for mindset and behavior shifts framework as well as research into what makes an organizational transformation successful.

To achieve equity, we need to examine the four elements of Mindset & Behaviour shifts that will help to overcome the obstacles we face: Role modelling is a powerful tool in education to pass on knowledge, skills, and values. Reinforcing with formal mechanisms, developing talent & skills & fostering understanding and conviction.

However, if we are to look at role modelling as one of the key methods for improving the outcome of disadvantaged pupils in schools then we need to look at the statistics for BAME teachers and SLTs in schools. It clearly shows more work needs to be done in this area.

According to the latest statistics: The proportion of BAME classroom teachers rose from 7% to 10% between 2010 and 2019.

The proportion of BAME deputy and assistant heads rose from 4% to 6%, and headteachers up from 2% to 4% (2010-19). Although there is 100% increase in the proportion of BAME headteachers over the last decade, it is still disproportionately low compared with 20% of the population in UK who identified as Ethnic Minority and 15% who identified as BAME in the 2011 census. There is a need to accelerated improvement otherwise at this rate, it will take over 100 years to have any meaningful proportion of ethnic minorities in school leadership roles.

School leaders and governors have a duty to tackle the issue of lack of representation with their workforce to ensure all pupils are inspired with effective role modelling in the schools or educational institutions.


Many schools are struggling to reconcile their aspirations to celebrate diversity which is rooted in excellence and equity. Part of the problem is that the idea of coherence is linked to what has always been done.

School leaders need the strength of their conviction and resolve to create a better society using education.

Using role modelling to address the aspiration deficit wherever it occurs in the organisation is an essential step in the right direction.

We all have a duty to promote social justice. Education can be an equaliser of the condition of men when you promote a change in the mindset and beliefs of our organisations.