I’ve been away from education for nearly 6 months now and most of that time has been spent abroad; I’ve not followed educational news as closely as I would have done in the past and what’s interesting is how much you still pick up from the headlines. The recruitment crisis is still heavily reported (although I would argue it is more a retention crisis than a recruitment crisis.) Government figures released last month reveled that a third of teachers who qualified in 2010, which incidentally is the year I started teaching, have since left the profession. A third. And that doesn’t include those who didn’t even make it through training. Workload is still a problem and still reported along with the clickbait stories published in the Daily Mail about school uniform and behaviour policies that they consider ridiculous. Message to school leaders: if the Daily Mail think you’re doing something wrong, you’re probably not.
There’s one piece of big news that schools have been talking about for a couple of years now and has only just been picked up by the media: budgets. In his 2015 Autumn statement Osborne (Remember him? Friends with David Cameron? Carried a red briefcase? Had a fondness for cocaine and S&M?) announced that the Government was going to cut the Education Services Grant by 75%. That’s the grant that pays for educational psychologists, speech therapists, physiotherapy, truancy officers, DBS checks, management of school buildings, school improvement and occupational therapy. Gone. Local Authorities used to offer a certain number of hours for free – these cuts means schools have to pay for each service individually. At the same time schools are trying to compensate for the decimation of other state services its families rely on. Gone are the days of Sure Start centres, behaviour support and youth services: schools are offering parenting classes and English lessons to try and help families. Teachers are buying breakfast for children who haven’t eaten since their school lunch the day before. Increasingly, schools are having to appoint their own social workers as local authority provision becomes increasingly stretched; legal services and insurance that used to be provided for free have been cut and those that still exist have to be paid for.
The Government have said that until 2020 school budgets are “protected” which guarantees that schools will lose no more than 1.5% of their income per pupil per year. However this doesn’t factor in any additional costs needed to cover inflation and extra costs such as higher employer NI and pension contributions. This means that, in reality, the actual value of funding per pupil in real-terms will fall by as much as 8% and in some cases more than that. As I said, to those working in schools this is not news; they’ve known this was coming for a long time and have been preparing for it as much as they can. I first wrote about the issue in May in my resignation letter:
A school in West Sussex hit the headlines last month with their announcement that they are considering dropping to a four day week. In their letter to the parents the school explained that they have made “every conceivable cut” to their provision including increasing class sizes, cutting staff and reducing the curriculum on offer. Closing was very much a last resort. What I always struggle with is that when news like this breaks there is such a lack of trust in the education system that people assume that the situation cannot by this dire and schools are just mismanaging their money. When a doctor tells me the difficulties the NHS are facing – I believe them. I don’t assume that the people who have given their lives to these jobs are doing so to line their own pockets.
In the last six years I’ve seen:
- Teachers buying stationery for their class
- TAs and support staff cut – most schools have one TA per year group or Key Stage
- Schools renting out the premises after school and at the weekends. This is a good idea but does mean schools are unable to offer fewer after school clubs because there’s a zumba class in the hall. It also means paying somebody to open and lock up at those times.
- The whole SLT in class. I agree your SLT should do some teaching but a full time class based SLT doesn’t leave much time for day-to-day running of the school
- Schools asking parents for financial contributions for resources
- Cuts to the curriculum areas that have resources that regularly need replenishing e.g. art, DT and even science
- Building work cancelled or “indefinitely delayed” – schools are now having to choose between repairing leaky roofs or buying exercise books
- Technology no longer fit for purpose. Smart Boards that don’t align, laptops with keys missing and screens that don’t work. Computing is such a vital part of the curriculum and a skill future generations are going to rely on and at the moment there simply aren’t the resources to teach it adequately.
- Head teacher choosing not to have a deputy head
- Subsidies for school journeys and trips being cut
- Reducing site mangers’ hours
- Cutting job shares – two part time teachers costs a school more than one full time but it also means we lose experienced, skilled staff because we can’t offer them flexibility once they have family
- Hiring unqualified teachers because they’re cheap – I’ve known several occasions where the cheapest candidate has got the job because the school could not afford the more expensive (read: experienced) teacher
- Six years of pay freezes for teachers whilst at the same time nearly doubling the contributions they’ve had to make to their pensions
Schools are not exaggerating when they say there is nothing left to cut and they are right to start communicating the problem to parents – the only way to fight this is with parents and teachers working together. Often when parents complained about testing or curriculum changes my answer was,“I completely agree with you and I suggest that you write to your local MP.” It’s the same with this. Parents need to know the cuts schools are making are not by choice – there is simply no other option.
There is an issue with the distribution of funding. A school in inner London receives more funding that an outer London one and substantially more than a school in East Sussex for example and the government has plans to address this. However simply taking from one area to give to another is not the solution here. The Government need to start investing heavily in education. Otherwise four day weeks and unqualified teachers will not just be controversial headlines but the only way schools can survive.