How the financial crisis will affect our schools

With a new Prime Minister being elected and children around the country returning to schools, a group of school leaders have a simple message for Liz Truss/ Rishi Sunak about the financial crisis now facing education. Pay rises need to be funded and significant support is needed to meet the escalating utilities costs. We simply will not be able to run our schools without this mess being sorted out by the Government and they need to do it quickly! Schools of all kinds around the country are facing the same, impossible challenge. Here members from the Headteachers’ Roundtable talk about their own schools and  contexts.

+ + +

Today, the Core Group members of Heads’ Roundtable have 201 years of headship, executive headship and trust leadership between them; our experiences provide a snapshot of school leadership today – primary, special, secondary, urban, rural, maintained, academy, multi-academy trust, faith, secular and variations in between. We are united in our experience, and knowledge, that the present situation is critical as investment in our children, and therefore our country’s future, is further reduced.

The surprise of a partially funded pay rise, the surprise of unfunded increasing energy costs and the effects of the surprising rapid rise in inflation during 2022 are just three reasons why 2022-23 will be the most challenging academic year, from a financial perspective, this century.

We have weathered consistent financial challenges in schools and colleges throughout the ABC period (Austerity, Brexit, Covid-19), which began with an 80% cut in capital funding for schools in 2010. 12 years later, the lack of investment in school buildings means that more significant costs are required today to rectify the situation.

Similar to school leaders throughout the country, the difficulties caused by pay rises being announced by the government after our budgets had been agreed and submitted to the DfE in July are significant. Families will notice that essential aspects of a good, structured, all-round education will be sacrificed. If financial support is not provided soon by the government, under the leadership of the new Prime Minister, then education settings across the country will, reluctantly, be making colleagues redundant in order to try to balance their books.

 The present situation is counter to the aims of the White Paper, published two Secretary of States ago in March 2022, for all schools to be part of trusts. There may be a stark contraction of the number of trusts in existence over the next two years if additional fiscal support is not forthcoming; how can this be attractive to the 15,000 maintained schools which are being encouraged to join the existing 10,000 academies by 2030?  

– Jon Chaloner, CEO of GLF Schools

Within the specialist sector we continue our debate surrounding the postcode lottery in High Needs funding, and how health and social care needs for our most vulnerable students and families are supported; all of which comes at a cost to schools as we provide what is necessary to meet these additional needs.  Specialist schools across the county have experienced similar cuts to resource, services, and staffing as their mainstream counterparts, however at an even greater cost to Local Authorities.  When the maintained specialist sector is inappropriately resourced, the only option is to turn to the Independent sector, at around 5 times more the cost, whilst also sending children out of county, often 50+ miles away from their home! When the system is allowed to breakdown in this way, it has devastating impact to the lives of children with SEND, and their families; needs cannot be met, confidence is shattered, and communities become fragmented, destitute, and with little hope for positive outcomes.  This is identified in the 2022 SEND Review.  These issues will be further exacerbated if national pay increases for teachers and support staff are unfunded by government, and we continue without a national plan in place to deal with rising energy bills.  This is not something individual schools can overcome in isolation.  This nation wide problem requires a nation wide solution, or else we risk the lives of our most disadvantaged, and at even greater cost. 

– Principal of a Special Needs School

Leaders across schools have been in crisis management mode for so long now that it is difficult to remember a time when it was “business as usual.” Not the usual highs and lows of school leadership, but a sense of relentless shielding for the children, staff and communities we serve at a time of unprecedented challenge; often beyond our control. As we go into the next academic year, that feeling isn’t just persisting, it is becoming even more sharply focused as we deal with what is in reality a real-terms defunding of schools, just when we need to be investing in our next generation to overcome the dislocation of provision and relationships that has marked the Covid years. With spiralling, uncapped utility costs and under-funded pay rises each and every school face the toughest of decisions which represent a race to the bottom of tightening belts, looking at cutting provision and in the worst cases staffing. Leaders will do everything to avert this and are in an invidious position of needing to do far more, with much less. Now is the time we unite our voices and use our positions as Community and Civic leaders to truly advocate for the young people we serve.

Dan Morrow, Trust Leader and CEO of Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust

Schools which serve complex communities require larger staff infrastructures to support the needs of their students. It’s vital that the cost of living crisis does not shatter the capacity of these schools to serve their communities – any notion of levelling up is dependent on budgets surviving the current challenges. With youth provision, health care, policing, pre-school provision all affected by previous austerity cuts, many communities in the north do not have the infrastructure in place to weather further cuts.

– James Eldon, Principal, Manchester Academy

Our Trust of nine schools approved its budget on 12th July and then submitted it to the ESFA in good faith. Budgeted salary costs matched professional advice: a scale of between 2% and rising to 6% improvement for new graduate teachers (ensuring the 30k starting position), 4% for support staff and we budgeted for what we believed was a generous 100% rise in utility costs. We could not have anticipated what happened next. Right at the bitter end of term a 5% salary was offered to teachers (still significantly below inflation and deserved) and utility cost estimates began to escalate to twice what we had budgeted for. As we start the new school year we still have no real purchase on how high these costs will rise for us. Making an assumption that the pay rise will be 5% and that current estimates on utilities are now likely, our MAT will have to find an additional £1.2 million this year to meet these cost rises and that is a conservative estimate. We have painstakingly built up some reserves which will be all but wiped out by these rising costs and unfunded increases. It is devastating for all schools. There has to be some Government intervention, surely?

– Caroline Derbyshire, CEO of Saffron Academy Trust in Essex

Four years ago my school was born. From the legacy school we inherited a reputation in tatters from years of special measures, twenty-two supply staff as recruitment was so bad and a £1.2m debt; yes, we had to pay every penny back. Last year we ensured every vacancy was filled with a substantive specialist teacher, reduced class sizes, increased the number of teaching assistants and student support staff, improved resourcing and incredibly paid off the last of the debt, banking a small surplus. All the more impressive as we have a significant BSF/PFI contract to cover.  Rapid and sustained school improvement takes serious investment; when term ended in July we were optimistic: the debt had gone, COVID was fading, ambitions and expectations were recovering and our new MAT was supportive and investing in our future. Now, I am unsure how we can afford the basics without returning to where we were four years ago with a community that will be severely hit by the cost of living crisis. Our children, our staff, their families all deserve so much better; we will do all we can of course, but we need some help.

– Keziah Featherstone, Headteacher of Q3 Academy Tipton, West Midlands

Sussex is no stranger to financial pressure, nor the impact that sparse funding has on students and staff. It has been an ever-present feature of my 7 years as Head of an 11-18 rural comprehensive. In our rural community, whether the school’s finances or those of our families, it is a constant consideration. Whilst “only” 18% are categorised as qualifying for pupil-premium, there is a population sitting just above that threshold who are not managing at all and our rural location brings financial challenges that do not make headlines but which dominate daily living for many. For the school, the hard numbers for this academic year include: a 100% increase in projected costs for oil (our main heating source), 60% increases in electricity and 179% increase in gas; equating to an additional £62K before further increases arrive. Our financial year runs until April so with a budget 5/12 already spent we will need to increase those headings to manage the winter and expected uncapped further increases. In terms of teaching staffing costs, following advice we budgeted for a 3% increase; a 5% increase with no additional funding means we need to find an extra £62K; we planned a 1% increase for support staff but face anywhere between 4-10% based on current negotiations. So, we need to find anywhere between £120-220k with no sign of additional support and additional central funding not even scratching the surface of this potential balance.

We cannot ask parents either morally or financially to fill this gap; we have to minimise the additional requests not increase them for these families. Yet costs for those not eligible for school transport and for rural sixth formers who have to self-fund have significantly escalated this year. The queue out the door last week for our pre-loved uniform stock showed the reality that many are now living and as they return to school with >10% inflation on shoes, canteen prices and basic equipment the pressure facing all young people and their families is obvious. Trips, clubs, music classes, reading books may well be the collateral damage of universal belt-tightening. The support staff whose pay increases we have to find are the essential front line of our students’ mental health needs; they have to be, there is no transport to access support locally – even if it existed. As I look around at these talented people working hard for our fabulous community I know there are only unpleasant choices ahead if this situation remains unresolved.

Caroline Barlow, Headteacher of Heathfield Community College, East Sussex

Our school is still reeling from the impact of the pandemic on pupils, their families and above all, on staff. Staff and pupil absences, from Covid and other relevant reasons, are still affecting how we organise school daily. We were already anticipating reduced per pupil funding as we predict our pupil numbers decreasing from September 2023 (government data June 2022) and the financial forecast was bleak (an in-year deficit of £73k) before anyone realised how much the cost-of-living crisis would affect our small school. Currently, staff remain upbeat as we discuss how we will maintain our excellent provision for our pupils and the community. However, when I must inevitably start talking about serious cutbacks and the potential of reducing an already stretched human resource at school, morale will decrease as we will have to share the burden of providing an exceptional education amongst fewer staff and limited resources.

I cannot conceive how a developed country, the 5th richest in the world, with a ‘vision’ for a world class education and hoping to compete on a global stage, is allowing its schools, the very foundations that will ensure the success of future generations to suffer. To turn off heating at the height of winter, reduce electricity use (we were already frugal before the crisis) essential to schools, and now unable to replace, let alone invest in, dilapidated and outdated infrastructure. How can this country allow any child to be cold and hungry before they even arrive at school? What I have described, I truly believe is the tip of the iceberg. Without government help, school and every public service will be severely impacted and may never really recover from the loss this funding crisis will cause.

Education is currently facing a recruitment and retention crisis. It is becoming increasingly difficult to replace headteachers and serving leaders, let alone teachers. The pot to fund the increasing need for pupil support has depleted to such an extent that in our school, as in many schools, we make do with the staff we have which increases everyone’s workload. The current plan to replace leaders with years of experience and wisdom will have its own negative impact but that conversation may have to wait for another time. This one is about the damage this crisis will do to our already overwhelmed and underfunded schools. This is no longer damage limitation; this is unrecoverable damage.

The real cost of this crisis will be a generation of children, already severely affected by Covid-19, whose families are all facing their own financial hardships, whose education will be compromised because a short-sighted government is becoming increasing blind (and deaf) to what they must do to stem this tide of devastation. Make no mistake, this is a catastrophe even if some former politicians deny this.

Sharifah Lee, Headteacher of Dorney School, Maidenhead

As part of my INSET address to colleagues last week I talked about how schools have increasingly become the glue that holds communities together and a vital protective factor for children and families. This will become increasingly prevalent as more families experience hardship.

Schools have rightly invested in skilled teams of LSAs/TAs, pastoral support workers, and SEMH workers to work alongside their highly skilled teachers. These vital provisions are under grave threat because of the existential funding crisis facing schools.

Funding essential pay rises without additional money would see our three-school federation facing an extra £550k in staffing costs over the next three years as well as severe inflationary cost pressures on day-to-day resources and materials.

When you add in the eye-watering cost of energy our job becomes impossible. We took the decision to fix our energy price deal- gas until April 23/ electric April 24. This year we budgeted for an increase of £80k for our three schools for energy. The thought of having to renegotiate energy deals on the open market fills us with extreme trepidation.

The only way to make significant enough savings is through large-scale redundancies (the equivalent of 6.5 teachers from year 2 or 13 learning support staff), a diminished curriculum, stopping vital maintenance work, and cuts to learning resourcing. This would eviscerate our provision.

If nothing is done to help schools weather this financial storm the beating heart would be ripped out of our inclusive federation. Colleagues we have nurtured and developed would be lost to our schools. The education and well-being of our pupils would suffer horribly.

Without a serious package of additional financial support our children and families will be dreadfully let down by our government. It would be an unforgivable act of vandalism.

Duncan Spalding, Executive Headteacher Aylsham High School, Bure Valley School & John of Gaunt Infant and Nursery School

My experience of leadership in Cambridgeshire schools has always been one of just about managing, due to historically inadequate levels of funding. We’ve continually looked for cost savings and in recent years, with a fluctuating student intake, we’ve had to trim the budget further. Not replacing staff, consolidating classes and reducing teachers’ non-contact time has been necessary but has added pressure. It’s hard to raise standards when you need to save money, rather than invest in human and capital resources. After years of struggling financially, being able to find hundreds of thousands of pounds to cover the hike in utility costs and unfunded pay increases is going to prove impossible. Like families living precariously on the poverty line, schools don’t have the luxury of disposable income to afford exponentially rising bills. 

Helena Marsh, Principal of Linton Village College

School leaders across the land will be writing home to parents this week to warn them about what these increases in costs will mean for the school their own children go to.  What is clear is that schools urgently need more funding!

Attending to attendance: are we missing the opportunity?

by Caroline Barlow, headteacher at Heathfield Community College, and vice chair of Headteachers’ Roundtable

A recent Westminster discussion conference focused on responding to the government’s proposals within the White Paper for attendanceWe all know the problem far too well. Attendance survey data recently published by the Department for Education estimated that 92.2% of pupils attended state schools last week, a figure increased from 90.3% in February but nowhere near where most of us need or want it to be. The current rise in Covid transmission will not be helping that figure for students or for staff, and whilst there may be no significant rise in cases reaching ICU the persistent absence rates in our schools are in danger of creating an educational emergencythat has far reaching consequences. Leaders across the profession warn of remaining disparities that reveal difficulty and disruption for families and schools.

Post-pandemic persistent absence in schools remains higher than any of us would like and disadvantaged pupils classified as persistent absentees are far more likely to be classified as such due to unauthorised absence. We know the implications of the problem: curriculum gaps and consequent catch up requirements, diminished socialisation skills, absence of routines and habits that impact not just academic success but wellbeing, health and long-term life chances. Never mind the safeguarding concerns with persistent absence.

Whilst we know there are no panacea for these problems we do know what is more likely to have impact. The EEF review published in March, whilst inconclusive in a range of areas did point the direction for what in practice we know makes a difference. A range of studies looked at targeting barriers and changing behaviours through benefits or through punishing. The most successful and promising impacts were unsurprisingly found in parental engagement interventions and parental communications. There were signs of potential in programmes involving mentoring, responsive and targeted approaches (including social and emotional support), and in some cases a focus on extra-curricular activities. There was no evidence that disincentives increase pupil attendance; some trials did include fines, removing parental allowances etc. but to limited effect.

So, given such recent research and such an imperative for action it might be reasonable to think that this was the basis for action proposed that would indeed create “Opportunity for all” in the recent White Paper.

However, the solutions from the Department for Education appear to focus on themes of data collection, centralisation, fining and recording; setting national thresholds for the circumstances in which a penalty notice for parents must be considered. Whilst the language around this still wishes to focus on “consider” and “suggest”, and many local authorities have been stressing the orders and fining strategies would be a last resort, it is what is not being spoken about that perhaps gives the greatest cause for concern in these proposals.

If fining is to be a last resort it seems peculiar that the detail given lists the circumstances under which fining must be considered but little wording or proactive support relating to the parental relationships and partnership working that break down the barriers for persistent absence. It is widely acknowledged that the biggest impact is made in the space where schools and parents interact. Given this understanding, it would make sense for as much as possible to be put into understanding and resourcing the potential in these relationships. In the absence of any language in this area – other than a requirement for schools to “pledge” the catch up available for Maths and English – this potential is undermined.

Reporting long term sickness via a legal requirement to inform councils when it is “clear a pupil will be away from school for 15 school days or more, whether consecutively or cumulatively, because of sickness” amounts to little more than data collection if there is no additional capacity to support that absence. The criteria students have to meet to secure that provision is already very high i.e. consultant level. If we have a child with a broken bone, for example that cannot attend we already currently refer for additional provision but the capacity in the system is so stretched that by the time the support is actually starting, we find the child is often ready to return. It is unclear how reporting the absence will enhance that capacity.

We also urge real caution around the possible authorising of remote working. We are told the government is proposing remote education to be recorded as “attending any other place for approved remote education”, but only where it meets a specific set of criteria. It is unclear what these criteria would be. Speculation has suggested pupils could be recorded in this way if they can’t attend because of a lack of transport, weather conditions, or if their school is partially or fully closed. Apart from the seminal moment that this means the end to any “snow day” experience, it could open the possibility to some thinking they don’t have to attend as they can have work provided and still get an attendance mark. In some cases, this could be a gateway to refusal.

Therefore, whilst there might be an argument that many of the proposals have reason and rationale that mitigate these concerns, it is what we are not talking about and what is not detailed that represents the biggest missed opportunity.

Where are the proposals to address the social, mental and health concerns that lie at the heart of much persistent absence? Where is the resource that will allow us to work long term to help young people and their families overcome the issues that lie at the heart of their absence and anxiety. Should we not be talking about partnership work in meaningful ways, the collaborative opportunities with health colleagues to proactively address issues at their core for families?

There is an opportunity to open up real dialogue about the role of parents, the relationships that support strong attendance and the resource needed to address the issues behind these figures. There is a space, post pandemic where real ground could be made in these areas, building on the trust and collaboration forged in communities over the last few years. We need to have these conversations. This is the hard work that takes time that will have impact. Data filing and fining will not take us there.

Our shelter of excuses has a leaky roof (Kaufman, 2005)

We cannot build educational excellence in  broken buildings

“England’s crumbling schools are a ‘risk to life’” screams the headline on a Saturday morning. Articles, tweets and weekend opinion pieces swiftly follow which describe the deteriorating condition of the school estate. Herein lies the differential: the priority School Rebuilding Programme will create distraction and diversion from the ongoing issue that faces many schools not eligible or cost effective to rebuild. The school’s maintenance agenda is not glamorous, it is rarely newsworthy and seemingly it is not urgent.

It has not seemed urgent for over a decade. Capital spending was cut to schools in 2010 and has not been reversed since. A House of Common’s library briefing paper from March 2022 states: “Spending generally followed a downward trend between 2009-10 and 2013-14 and in the years since spending has fluctuated … Overall, between 2009-10 and 2021-22, capital spending declined by 25% in cash terms and 29% after adjusting for inflation (2021-22 prices).” The issue was raised by subsequent manifestos in the time in-between but has never risen to the top of the priority list, concurrently the funding to LA capital programmes continues to be cut and CIF funding bids remain a lottery.

This topic was the subject of a recent Westminster Forum debate in April this year. By participating I was able to raise the profile of the condition and constraints affecting a school like ours: a rural, local authority, large secondary comprehensive. Built in the 1950s with corridors wide enough to serve as a hospital in the event of nuclear war, this building was made to last and with care it has served its population well. More modern additions are arguably less robust and are showing their age, as are the flat roofs in their ever-repeating cycle of repair and replacement. However, nobody in the locality wants a new build, we do not need our College to be demolished and replaced by an identikit series of boxes that remove the character and history of these buildings used year-round by its community. However, we do need to be able to keep it in general good repair. We need to be able to expand as growing numbers and success demands and we need to be able to modernise for energy efficiency and digital sustainability. For that we do not need a rebuilding programme we need maintenance and improvement investment.

Annual improvement and maintenance budgets are reliant on two factors:  Devolved Formula Capital which has decreased -6% from 2015 in real terms and the School Condition Allowance which has fallen -12% in the same time period. The briefing paper “School Buildings and Capital Funding” quoted the estimated cost of £6.7bn to return all school buildings to a satisfactory or better condition. The total devolved funding we receive annually is approximately £60,000 based on a pupil numbers formula. Beyond that there is simply no further funding available unless its an immediate safeguarding risk, yet work we deem of immediate need costs twice or three times that. Refurbishing aging science laboratories last summer took £255,000 ensuring the site was secure with automated gating had to be spread over 2 years and took close to £25,000.

We use the historic (rarely full and accurate) condition surveys, accident reporting logs, energy usage and weekly site inspection records to analyse the condition of the site and plan for annual improvement work, none of it is anything other than urgent and none of it is additionally funded. We are currently planning how to address water ingress in the IT block, cracks in walls, an idiosyncratic electrical system, pensionable boilers and utterly inadequate provision of toilets for a school of 1500 students in a modern culture of equality.

Our plans will not be covered by any of the headline focused new capital funding streams, we will not gain funding through places for SEND, we will not qualify for places linked to changing admissions pattern, the site has been too well maintained and is not in a geographic area that might make Rebuilding a viable proposition.  Becoming an academy will not change any of those factors and will instead simply provide us with a ticket to an increasingly over-crowded CIF lottery. The condition of your school building and the environment in which you learn should not be dependent  on which part of the country in which you live.

There is an argument some will make that the increase to schools’ core budgets could be used to maintain the condition of the school environment. An injection of  £4.7bn is claimed to equate to a cash increase of more than £1,500 per pupil, by 2024-25. Once I have calculated the cost of our increasing utilities, employers staffing costs, staffing pay increases and inflation I can then look to see what provision I have to fill the void of student support services created by years of local authority funding cuts to services. Only then will I know if this leaves anything to address the buildings issues we manage on a weekly basis to create an environment that is sustainable, modern and inspiring for young people as they complete their education and prepare to be our future leaders.

The DfE are busy consulting on their ambitious plans for the future but if we are to make the most of coherent school structures, ensure the 32,163 schools across the UK are environmentally sustainable and energy efficient and drive the digital agenda post-pandemic we need to make sure the buildings are fit for purpose. When asked what I would request of the DfE in relation to this topic at the WEdF event, I suggested they camp out at the door of the Treasury. Perhaps as Sam Freedman (@Samfr) implies we could stop referring to our young people as students/pupils/children and instead describe our impact on “future taxpayers” … it might sharpen the thinking.

Until there is a recognition of the productivity and long-term health and societal benefits of education we will always be in danger of being overlooked compared to spending demands deemed more immediate. Our students and our staff deserve better.

Caroline Barlow

Caroline is Headteacher of Heathfield Community College and Vice Chair of Headteachers’ Roundtable.

Please Sir, I Want Some More! –

Members of The Headteachers’ Roundtable have been digesting ‘Opportunity for All’, the first Education White Paper for six years. With such a lengthy cooking time prior to serving and arriving, as it does, in the midst of a crisis unlike any other in our lifetimes, would it have been wrong to expect something hot, ambitious and visionary to chew on?  Well apparently, we are too hungry for change and should have expected less. The White Paper is rather underwhelming “thin gruel” considering the scale of the risk facing our young people and the generation to come.

So as we have been “reviewing the situation”, let’s take a few of its themes.

  • 90% of all primary school children to achieve the expected standard in Key Stage 2 reading, writing and maths by 2030. For the past 3 years our primary schools have been focussed on broadening the scope of their curriculum and developing greater subject expertise in subjects other than Maths and English. This target will, inadvertently, undo this good work and the narrowing will re-appear especially if Ofsted references this target in any way.
  • The national average GCSE grade in both English language and maths increase to grade 5 by 2030.  We believe the intention is that outcomes will be benchmarked against National Reference tests in Year 9 which will indicate students have “got better” at Maths and English and signal the need to adjust – time will tell. It will make quality very difficult to judge in traditionally criterion-referenced subjects.
  •  Schools will offer a minimum school week of 32.5 hours by September 2023. The vast majority do this already. No change here.
  • Ofsted will inspect every school by 2025. We knew they would. What we have been calling for is a reform of Ofsted and especially a removal of the Ofsted grades which dampen schools’ ability to improve.
  • By 2030 all schools will be in a school in or in the process of joining a MAT. This has been the direction of travel for a decade. It may be the most contentious part of the WP, but is the least unexpected. The belief is that families of schools allow for sharing of resource and collaboration which drives improvement. There are opportunities perhaps to come that could determine how those MATS work in harmony with each other or with other agents in the locality and public sector, not just within themselves. The danger will be if they continue to operate as silos, perpetuating outdated cultures of regional competition over collaboration.

There is also within the paper a menu of things to come but which do not yet have the details fully scoped:

  • We cannot yet know how the use of live attendance data will be safeguarded to prevent perverse incentives or micro management, we certainly do not know how it will lead to redeployment of resources where the need is greatest to address those out of education right now.
  • Outcomes of behaviour surveys will arguably take up to three years to show interesting variances and it is unclear how these variances will be mitigated and explored to understand the full picture behind what will ultimately be perceptions. Follow up focus groups would at least provide more understanding of what lies behind the data for such an emotive and complex topic, often rooted in much more than what happens in school.
  • Mental health support is promised for those that need it but little is given yet about what that could look like beyond what schools are already doing, above and beyond their brief and how resource will be allocated to enable it be to be effective and long lasting enough to prevent the demand on the already difficult to access escalated structures.
  • Training and Guidance in making the most of the Technology will be vital  if we are to make the most of the infrastructure that has been delivered and is now set out in ominously worded “standards” – if the answer is the EdTech schools (will this be the same for the Behaviour Hubs?) they are often miles away from many schools and it is not realistic to meet the scale of what’s needed to walk alongside schools as they embed this potentially game changing but complex opportunity.
  • A promise of regulatory review to establish the clear roles of different players in the sector is interesting but with what remit? and by when or whom? If that is also to wait until 2030 that leaves 8 more years of the “messy and often confusing…and often overlapping” current systems.

We don’t really know what the detail of any of this looks like or how it will play out (or not) there is a real danger much of its potential will be lost in competing demands on the Treasury and time bonded electoral priorities.

All of which brings us to ask what could have been in the White Paper that wasn’t?

  1. A promise of more funding to protect schools from the immediate fuel and utilities pressure so that they can pay for better quality teaching through, investing in training over time meet the increased salaries without sacrifice in other areas and significant capital investment.
  2. A joined-up approach to the welfare of young people with schools sitting at the centre of children’s’ services.
  3. A radical reform of Ofsted so that it is fit for purpose – and a clarity on how this sits alongside the focus on performance in core subjects in this paper, with no mention of EBacc.
  4. A radical reform of assessment.
  5. A dynamic and creative approach to teacher and support staff recruitment and, equally important, retention

The inescapable truth is that schools can only and should only do so much. They should certainly only do the things for which they are resourced. There is a much wider conversation to have about the impact of the cost of living rises and child poverty on our families. These factors will only compound the inequalities we all acknowledge exist and will create generational disadvantage.  Until these issues are addressed at root cause we will still be stretching thin gruel too far to fill any literal or metaphorical empty stomachs.

One wonders if there is a knowledge that there simply isn’t a commitment to invest in education long term and therefore a redressing of the things schools are already doing allows for some celebration of success later down the road without really addressing the major work needed – already set out by previous bodies and a Catch-Up Tsar with integrity – to enable our young people to catch up, level up and excel. We are going to have to do more than “pick a pocket or two” to do justice to children.

What is true is that the DfE does at least appear to be in listening mode, there is evidence of some adaption in light of consultation. Whilst we continue to push our MPs, Ministers and advisers for the funding required to deliver the entitlement our children and staff deserve, we must continue to insist on what is needed for them to have the “fine life” they truly deserve.

What might that look like? Well, it just so happens that in 2021 we wrote an Alternative White Paper that touches on many of these points. This is what it could have been……

Our Week’s Highlights

A collective Headteachers Roundtable blog

Schools and colleges are challenging places to work at the moment. Statistics about headteacher and senior leader recruitment and retention are not looking terribly rosy either. However, we still believe it is, to quote Vic, “the best job in the world,” and it remains an utter privilege to serve our communities and work alongside brilliant colleagues, students and their families. With this in mind, members of the Headteachers Round Table share their most uplifting moments from the previous week.

What gave me a boost this week was welcoming strong candidates to interview on site and hearing their really positive reflections on our school. It encouraged me that there is strength and quality across the profession and reminded me that sometimes we need to step back from the immediate problems we have to deal with and see the quality of the bigger picture in our own house. Caroline Barlow

A mum came up to me on the gate and thanked me for improving the school. And I honestly had to duck my head to stop myself welling up. James Eldon

It was a week of further challenges both personally and professionally for me and there were moments where I felt overwhelmed by both; and then I sat with a group of ECTs and listened to their reflections and feedback on the support they have received and how it is shaping them to be the best versions of themselves and to do their best work. It struck me that they have only known teaching during the pandemic and yet do not stop striving to keep learning and to keep giving. I felt humbled and inspired; it picked me up and propelled me forward. Dan Morrow

My highlight of the week: watching GSCE Dance students performing this choreographed piece to me. The poignancy of the stimulus and seeing young people engage collectively in the arts brought a tear to my eye and reminded me of the sheer joy and privilege of educating young people. Helena Marsh

This week a rather vulnerable Year 11 boy came to my office to cool down after he’d become caught up in an argument with classmates; he later returned to lessons to continue the day calmly. Last year he was close to permanent exclusion and he would probably have simply punched someone, sworn at staff, before jumping the fence. He now feels as if people care about him and his future and he wants to make the right decisions; this has taken many people and many hours but its paying off. This week he is winning a Science award for his commitment to learning, which he doesn’t find easy, and I am beyond proud of the young man he is becoming. Inclusion works. Keziah Featherstone

The highlight of my week was going to watch a whole school production of the musical Chicago. The show had to be double-cast because of Covid and it was just as well because key individuals were not available at times during both the rehearsal and performance stages. Before the dress rehearsal the Head of Drama and Director tested positive. She then continued to direct the musical from home using a Teams link on her iPad….instructions were relayed to cast and crew in this most bizarre of ways….unimaginable two years ago. The show was put on for four nights and alternated the double-cast leads so each cast did 2 shows of remarkably high standard. The joy that the show has generated amongst the community and the students is unlike anything I have seen. Audiences, made up of proud staff, parents, grandparents celebrated with standing ovations. We did it! We are back! It reminds us all that real life Arts experiences are not optional. They are essential to all of us and especially vital in our schools. Caroline Derbyshire

Listening to senior leaders embarking on L7 Apprenticeship/Masters as their tutor was really quite humbling. So many of them early into leadership and despite the challenges we have all faced they were determined to keep developing and learning so that their teams and the young people benefited. Binks Neate-Evans

Setting up a new alternative provision class group for the most hard to reach, disengaged students in the school, and for the first time in forever, for the whole week, they all; stayed in lessons; smiled at some point during a positive interaction with someone; and managed to attend school more than 3 days in a row! I remembered why I became a teacher. Sabrina Hobbs

Starting with the HTRT first meeting of 2022 on Friday afternoon, it was a pleasure to meet with everyone, but especially Stephen Tierney, our former Chair, who was attending for the last time. I had the honour to serve as Stephen’s vice-chair for 8 years and it has been a privilege to reflect upon his positive impact upon me in that time. A tactical master, Stephen held true to his values and HTRT’s mission and vision throughout. He was consistent no matter his audience – from ministers to colleagues, from officials to governors, Stephen led our organisation with humility.  Despite the turbulence of the week as Covid continues to bear down upon school and trust leaders, meeting with HTRT members (and being in awe of its new leadership), meeting a group of CEO colleagues and witnessing some of the wonderful opportunities that GLF Schools’ colleagues are giving to our children across the Trust, both in-person and via other means, sustains me…what a privilege to work with committed colleagues who are, daily, supporting the children and students who are our future.  Jon Chaloner

And finally, from Duncan Spalding: Our little predominantly white British corner of England can be incredibly insular but a gorgeous event this week filled me with hope for a more open-minded future. Our year 7 are reading Boy Overboard and an English colleague wanted to help the pupils gain a greater understanding of life in Afghanistan. To do this a former student who came to our school having fled Afghanistan did a Zoom webinar for our whole year 7 and answered the questions they had devised. At the back of the classroom sat some year 10 pupils who have formed the harbour club and who have begun writing a newsletter called The Lighthouse to help our school community to better understand what it means to be a refugee, an asylum seeker, or economic migrant in search of a better and safer life. Their aim is for our school to become a School of Sanctuary. After the session the year 10s and 7s worked together planning for the next edition of their newsletter. One year 7 lad described it as his best lesson ever. The fact that our guest alumni speaker spoke from their university accommodation (they are currently in their second year studying a BSc in Biomedicine) about the privilege of going to our school made it even more powerful. She urged our young people to take full advantage of the privilege that they have. When asked by a pupil what message they would give to anyone meeting someone seeking refuge or asylum for the first time they gave a simple and poignant answer- Just be kind, as you have know idea what terrible struggles they have already been through. Never underestimate the power of kindness. What we and our colleagues in schools do changes lives. Whether seismic or small it’s magical and the perfect reminder of why schools are the most amazing places to work in the world. I am so glad I took the time to stand at the back of the classroom and share in this fabulous moment.