“You seem to be lost in a world of statistics when these headteachers who wrote this letter to their parents yesterday are dealing with the reality and you can quote as many numbers as you like about what you say are statistics, proportions, whether its changed since 2010; in the meantime there are teachers buying pencils, parents who are having to buy toilet rolls for their schools and you seem to think the way to answer all those issues is to tell them the good news is it’s better when they know it is not… its like you are being completely deluded over the reality of what is happening in the classroom”
Charlie Stayt to Nick Gibb regarding school budgets
I am happy that school finances are very clearly in the spotlight at the moment. This is down to the great work being done by the Worthless? Campaign which has galvanised head teachers across the country. This resulted in many of us sending out a letter to our parents on Friday detailing what is happening and in particular highlighting the lack of engagement from the DFE and Government. We are not going to let this issue drop, every head teacher I speak to fully believes that education in this country is not the priority it should be.
You see the argument is not about toilet rolls, pencils or little extras. It is SO much bigger than this. We need to put everything in to context when we hear head teachers talk about their budget concerns.
Since 2010 when austerity became a policy other things also impacted upon schools. It is not just that our budgets have shrunk and therefore so have our resources. The expected standards that schools have to account for have also risen. The gap between expectations and resources in this time have widened. The good thing is these tests are mainly accountable in English and Mathematics. Prioritise your timetable – meet this need and you might survive the scrutiny. The bad news is – because schools have needed to prioritise their outcomes they have ensured that teachers focus has been one of teaching and learning in these areas. No matter what Ofsted tell you; no matter what bright new beginnings are on the horizon… you are juggling with career suicide if, as a head teacher, you do not prioritise standards in this narrow field of education. During my last Ofsted inspection when I walked in to speak to the inspector he looked up and squeezed his thumb and finger together… ‘You are that close to outstanding.’. I just wanted to say Bulls*it – but he was a very nice man. The fact of the matter is with progress measures like ours I knew and he knew that the QA would not allow it. Whatever happens with Ofsted this accountability, these expectations, are never going to lower. They are high and schools have to firmly set their direction of travel towards them. In the new Ofsted approach it would seem that they have got a solution for this. A new focus on the curriculum; hallelujah we all cry! I don’t believe for a second that this will take the pressure off of school leaders who are barely keeping their schools roof above the high expectation water mark as their finances sink away. We now have to ensure we resource that broad and balanced curriculum AND meet those test standards. Hallelujah!
The other issue that has exasperated this crisis in education is the slow and painful death of the Local Authority. It has been ruthless. Before the button was pressed many saw the Local Authority as a complex and expensive beast of burden. But like the destruction of many multi layered and intricate things, as it came apart some of the layers that were brutally torn away were vital. None more so than SEND or social care. Schools are now the front line in the battle against so many things left bare in the shadow of a dying LA. In my 16 years of headship across the South of England it has never been harder to get care or support for children and families. The thresholds have become so high that issues that would make many a person not dealing with this shiver in horror hardly trigger more than some extra paperwork.
The papers can put the blame of knife crime at the door of schools… But, don’t be fooled, schools are not the solitary conduits of society. Schools do not timetable knife fighting lessons- they try to make the best choices for the majority of their communities. If knifes are coming to school – what does that say about our society and who is to blame for this? If a child is so angry that they bring a knife to school what is a school to do? Exclusions are rising and some schools have acted illegally in this… Why? In all of this not only have schools budgets been cut, we have somehow become the place to point the finger when society breaks down. Inclusion is one of the hardest things to do in a school – it should be one of the easiest. There is no incentive to look after all children, no budget and no reward. Where has this come from? Head teachers, or the choices of government policy?
You see the crisis in educational funding is so much deeper than cuts to school budgets. It is about a choice being made about the way we work as a society. Schools can do much to support this and clearly we can be blamed when it is not going right. There is so much delusion about what schools can and should be doing. Ministers can go on TV and say it’s all ok- funding is better than it was… when Britain is bleeding, when head teachers are raging and when the very fabric of our schools are crumbling in the aftermath of the fall of services for the most vulnerable in our society. If you cant see that then you are truly delusional.