Over the years I’ve done a fair bit of decorating; a tub of polyfilla, bit of sanding and you’re ready to paper over the cracks. However, when it comes to structural damage and a huge crack up the wall you can’t paper over it and pretend it’s not there. I sense we are hitting the educational equivalent; the cracks are too big to continue papering over.
On Finance …
I hope the Department for Education will review its current approach to the funding crisis. It simply appears to be stating ad nauseum, “More money is being spent on education than ever before”. It has to be; over this and the next Parliament one million more children and young people will be in our schools. For school leaders, up and down the country, meeting with teachers and support staff to commence redundancy procedures the DfE pronouncement appears arrogant and a distortion of reality. To the staff who fear for their jobs and the uncertainty these procedures bring the pronouncement appears callous and uncaring.
The amount of cash per child is unchanged; the demands of wage increases, where they happen, increased national insurance and pension contributions and inflation means schools can afford less and will ending up doing less. School leaders and governors are struggling to find hundreds of thousands of pounds of cuts.
The Education Select Committee recognises the issues created by the lack of funding; as does the National Audit Office. The Public Accounts Committee has made their feelings known as have headteachers up and down the land; governors and Members of Parliament are also increasingly vocal. It’s sometimes hard for a Government to be honest and simply state “we’re prioritising deficit reduction over children’s education” or “we’re prioritising our pet educational projects over schools’ annual budgets”.
On People …
If you remove too many people the system will crumble. The woeful retention of teachers in the early years of their career, losses in the middle years and legion of school leaders who are ready to walk away from the situation they currently find themselves in add up to a catastrophic waste. We’re finding it harder to recruit teachers; we still have some hugely competitive short lists but on other occasions we have drawn a blank. Some schools will be less affected whilst others will be thinking “welcome to my World”.
The impact of reducing numbers of graduates, high turnover and the 1960s baby boomers reaching early retirement age and going as soon as they can makes me fear for the years ahead. Our system is built from and by lots of great people; we’ll miss them when they are gone.
On Unproductive Change …
I’m actually beginning to have sympathy for Justine Greening MP. She was handed a pig’s ear by Michael Gove and keeps trying to fashion a silk purse. Whether it’s the standard or strong pass at GCSE to differentiate between the expectation of a pupil versus a school, producing a poster to solve the excessive workload caused by massive concurrent curriculum change or the nightmare of moving to an academy system, with its pros and cons; there’s a lot of friction without much movement in the right direction. Cue the entrance of another pig’s ear, this time courtesy of Number 10; the stunning irrelevance of more grammar schools.
Not helping herself with the announcement that the ECDL qualification would not be counted in the performance tables of current Year 10s; some headteachers and teachers have just put their head in their hands. Others will no doubt walk and some will be pushed when their Progress 8 scores dip. The accountability stakes are so high and the consequences so punitive every point matter; even the half points produced by this year’s bizarre amalgamation of two GCSE grading systems.
The number of school leaders contacting/speaking/messaging me in moments of despair seems to be growing – finance, staffing, constant changes, Ofsted & accountability – their reservoir of hope seems to be running pretty dry. I’m just hoping we’ll pull out of this nose dive towards chaos soon.