Once the strange West Country tradition of Carnival is over, winter, like a sad assassin, slowly takes control. I love this time of year. My drive to work is punctuated by the dead leaves eddying as the light wakes up. The starlings murmuring across the skies banging out the rhythm of the morning as they twist, drop and swell. Watching them in their masses is to live for. This week as I drove across the Somerset Levels trying not to crash into the ditches I saw two monstrous murmurings of starlings. As I often do – I tried to think how I could write about them when suddenly I was over taken by a low flying murder of crows. Their weighty, disorganised, flight was blindly aimed into the oncoming traffic. I immediately thought how they reminded me of education in this country right now. They either had some sort of suicide pact or they were so convinced of their Avian divine right to be on this course that they couldn’t foresee the risks. I slowed down as one of them clumsily tried to avoid a Truck clipping it and spiralling into a puff of dark feathers. It was almost as if whilst searching for some sort of experience to write about regarding the state of education this one bird thought – ‘Oh, I’ll give you a metaphor for education right now…’
It was dead before it hit the ground.
Like many people I watched #School this week and I was sadder about the state of education than I can ever remember. It’s not left me. The dignity of @jamespope may have made it hit home harder. As a head teacher we all dream our exits. We all want them to be on our terms and in recognition of the difference we have made to others. When James walked in to that staff room and told the assembled staff (knowing what we knew) that he was leaving- that intake of breath – I felt the tears well-up (I can count the number of times I have cried over education on one hand – I’m a mean-hearted man) because I knew just how hard that was… I knew what that meant – on one level the sweet freedom from it all; but when you become a school leader your school becomes a part of you and you can’t just throw it off without a deeper kind of hurt. Having to do that, knowing he couldn’t say what he wanted to say… just so unfair. So sad and yet so familiar in the current education landscape that we have created. His loyal senior leader summed it up:
“What more can we do? We have worked solidly, passionately the last… goodness knows how long and, you just… yeah. Just… you know? Sorry. We love the school. We love our jobs. We love the work that we’re doing and its just the unfairness. Cut after cut, after cut, after cut…
I have seen many heads fall over the years. Sometimes I have been there, sometimes I have supported them through it and sometimes I have advised them it was for the best. When I worked in one local authority we even had a phrase for losing our job… ‘Lunch with Nick’ (After the senior LA officer who told you your time was up). But, this was worse because how can you cut your budget like that and still raise standards – with PE teachers covering maths lessons?
We really need to take a long hard look at our education system right now. We need great leadership at the highest levels to sort this mess out and we need it yesterday.
If any politician wants to see the Tory Austerity Legacy summed up in one hour – watch that third episode of School. It’s a shame because there are so many good things in education today masked by too many morally bankrupt ones. Sorry, but destroying lives should not be collateral for better phonics and higher standards, never. It’s the rhetoric that perpetuates this that boils the blood though… My MP wrote in our local paper and talked up the Gove legacy and how we are much better at teaching phonics now. He is right. But, ‘a pat on the back’ just makes me cross- maybe its just me? It shows an utter lack of understanding about where we are right now. The cuts I have made to my school and the cuts I know are coming… Schools Minister Lord Agnew was even worse, betting a ‘bottle of Champagne’ (Which will go nicely with the little extras the Treasury have offered) that he could make savings in any school. Of course he can! In the same way I can make major savings by scraping Trident or reforming The House of Lords. The contempt some people have for school leaders is hard to take… Maybe we should pipe down and shut up? But, that is not the issue here. We are failing vulnerable families. There is no money for SEND children; no services for families on the brink… no support for schools currently drowning. And the teachers are rightly angry.
This is why, like those crows, we are heading into dangerous places. I note the change in language at the NUT now. ‘Pats on the back’ and ‘bottles of champagne’ are not going to solve what is a generational crisis within our schools. What we need are people in politics who can put aside their party politics. Problem is I don’t see this coming from any party… I have never been more disillusioned by our political system. The roots of any healthy, thriving society should be a strong school system – we can but dream because it would seem that some are content to watch ours wither; starved of the basics they need when like those starlings we should be soaring.