It hit me last week that schools have changed dramatically in the last 5 years. The best two decisions I feel I have made this year were employing our own HR and engaging fully with lawyers for all manner of issues. I believe schools have become harder, sharper and less forgiving places. I believe that the climate for this has been pushed from the top down on to us. It feels like a ‘Dog Eat Dog’ world out there. What is worse is I see that there is a storm brewing of hurricane proportions. I believe that the education sector is at the edge of the single most dangerous time I can remember. There is a financial crisis about to happen and I feel many schools, as they operate today, will become unviable.
George Osborne’s new ‘living wage’ was hailed by many as ‘a masterstroke’. I agree, it was a political masterstroke. But have schools (Or anyone who this affects) really thought through the implications? That promise to raise the minimum wage to £9 is going to have a massive impact over the next 5 years. 5 Years in which I was under the impression that school budgets will be cut or at the very least flat-lined.
Let me explain why. I have well over 100 staff at my school and many of those staff earn less than £9 an hour. Many cleaners and support staff earn between £7 and £8. I am not arguing whether this is right or wrong. I utterly believe in the principles of better pay and better chances and I base this on personal experience of growing up in poverty with hard working parents. But, how is this being paid for? I spoke to a school this week and they will need to find £15,000 alone to pay their clearers at £9 an hour. I worked out (and this is a VERY conservative and basic estimate) that at my school I had 28 staff (It is far more likely to be at least 50) who would need to increase their wage by £1 an hour (many would need more).
So for each full time member of staff (32 hr week) they would earn an extra £32 a week (before on costs). 28 staff will mean that the basic cost to school a week would be £896. If we say that on average the school year is 42 weeks that makes:
This is VERY basic and open for development. This is just one school. The fact is schools will need extra money to meet the minimum wage. Where is this money coming from? What is the cost nationally and who is paying for this?
The other issue is if cleaners are being paid £9 an hour then what should we be paying a teaching assistant – the same? If not their wages will increase by at least the same amount as the lowest wage earners. That would very quickly double the very conservative £36,632 above. These types of increases at a time of cuts are suicidal. I would not be that surprised if the real costs go over £100,000. I had to balance a budget this year and by doing that a lot of staff with fixed term contracts had to leave. 18 staff left this year. I had to do that to secure the budget over the next few years on the current funding arrangement. I have no idea how we would cope with the minimum wage?
Am I correct in summarising that the government are passing the burden for this onto the employers? I have looked to see where the support will come but not found it yet.
This is all happening at a time when:
Tax credits are being cut to pieces and fears over child poverty are rising.
Teaching wages have been capped and the profession (As I experience it daily) is at an all-time low with many teachers leaving the profession.
So, what are the implications? How will we survive this financial crisis in our schools? Multi Academy Chain anyone? As I said it was a political masterstroke. This could be the final privatisation move needed to make schools move to this model regardless of choice, evidence or willingness. Don’t even get me on to the NHS!!! So when our Chancellor, A man who has probably never used the public sector, soaked up all those cheers from his colleagues it may have been the final nail in the public sector coffin. Ironic when you think about it from a Labour perspective. I think that smug look was more to do with playing the final chess piece down and saying, “Checkmate.”
And we all fall on our own swords…