Since we became an academy the run up to Christmas has been about more than keeping lessons focused, carol concerts and jumpers; it is also the time of year that I need to get the final audited accounts in to the EFA. To be honest it isn’t the most fun I have in the job!
Last year it was the start of the process of making redundancies and this year is even worse; especially with the prospect of having to cut about £800 000 over the next four years. To be truly honest it has made me feel like a failure, like I’ve let the staff and students down by not having any realistic solution to this problem that won’t leave them without a worsening work and educational experience.
I see that a big part of my job is to filter as much of the ‘stuff’ that is happening in education from staff, and especially our young people, so they can get on with the day to day job of improving the future of our community. However, I am failing in this when it comes to our financial position and I have made this worse by my belief that the money that I receive this year should be spent on this year’s young people.
I have always felt like this; sitting on ‘rainy day’ money does not serve the students that should be receiving it. Obviously now I talk to colleagues that have kept money and built up a reserve, despite the much talked about clawbacks, and I’m envious of that decision.
Every school has different challenges, of course, and ours have compounded some of our current financial issues. When you have over 60 young people with an EHCP (over 50% of all such students in the town) and you are told that the first 6k of support per young person is already in your budget (£366k) that causes some difficulties. This is compounded by the fact that our co-educators (LSAs) are highly experienced and skilled and we only get funded at the lowest band for such a role. We do not receive anywhere near the full cost of these staff but their work is invaluable to our most vulnerable students so I must find it somewhere.
I wonder what happens to the 6k, that is already in the budget, for schools that don’t have young people with that level of need? Any chance it can be taken off them and given to those of us that do? The feeling of injustice is compounded when you work out that over half of these young people are not attending their local secondary school with their friends from primary school. They actively choose Passmores for a variety of reasons (some really positive reasons) but too often it is because the nearby school somehow can’t meet their needs despite having the same level of funding. This is the point where the LA and the RSC both tell me there is nothing they can do about it and tell me to talk to the other one!
Having been through one redundancy process, for our non-classroom based staff, I really don’t want to go through it again but the National Funding Formula, if it stays in the current form, will make this a certainty. Before you start shouting that we have obviously been overfunded before and it is only fair that we have equality around this issue I obviously agree with funding being ‘fair’ but what about the outlandish thought that before we can have ‘fair funding’ we must have sufficient funding.
The only way funding can be fair is if there is enough in the pot to start with. Whilst I know the government got elected on an austerity driven mandate I wonder how they would have done if people knew it also meant that schools will not be able to afford text books or to replace important staff that support their child?
I always return to a position of hope and this is no different. Of course, the government wants the same as us – our young people to succeed – but they need to listen to the dedicated professionals all over the country that are telling them it is impossible without a change in their funding decisions. I will happily lead the applause if they choose to change their current direction of travel and allow us to truly meet the needs of our young people.
I know this quote from our first female Prime Minister is much lauded and seen as strong leadership etc:
“To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say: You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”
However, I hope that the current Prime Minister takes more notice of Abraham Lincoln from March 1832:
“I may be wrong in regard to any or all of them; but holding it a sound maxim, that it is better to be only sometimes right, than at all times wrong, so soon as I discover my opinions to be erroneous, I shall be ready to renounce them.”
Tightening belts to keep the economy afloat is a sensible long term strategy for the benefit of the country but having poorly educated and vulnerable children is not.
About the author: Vic Goddard is Principal of Passmores Academy and author of The Best Job in the World