We might be relentlessly reasonable, patient and polite but we are not daft. Unsurprisingly Headteachers are intelligent educated people. We get the politics at play here. A budget overshadowed by Brexit. Most of the spending promised as capital not revenue to prevent ongoing spending burdens for the Department of Education.
We get that there is a promise of “jam tomorrow” with the anticipated Comprehensive Spending Review. We can even gratefully acknowledge the commitment to cover the forthcoming increased pension contribution costs for schools, but whilst this is an aversion of impending catastrophe that is welcome and must be upheld, does not address the pre-existing concerns around unfunded pay awards and reforms of the last 8 years.
Yesterday’s budget announcements did not play well at all with the profession. Called “tin-eared” by Jonathan Simons who has seen the delivery of nearly 30 budgets and derided as patronising by many on Social Media, more than anything the demeaning tone that appeared to show a total disconnect with the public mood was a source of anger and disappointment to many. That public mood is not just one within the teaching profession, it is shared and demonstrated by parents, governors, communities and many students, a number of whom will be of voting age very soon.
It was a mood which took to Twitter last night in howls of derision. £50k per secondary school and £10k per primary does not even scratch the surface of the capital repair needed for the school estate, estimated last year by the National Audit Office to require over £6.5bn just to bring buildings up to the basics. Surely, at least acknowledging this would have helped.
Moreover this “little extra” certainly does not touch the real and ongoing burden of escalating salary costs which are crippling schools each and every year. These are not “Little Extras” they are the specialist Maths teacher in your child’s classroom, the Learning Support Assistant who helps your child learn to read, the specialist Physics teacher supporting your daughter in her A level, the pastoral support worker helping your son manage a family bereavement or breakup. What we needed was the improved annual per-pupil spending that allows us to pay teachers’ and support staff salaries. Another increase to the National Living Wage that is unfunded for schools is fantastic for our support staff but does nothing to help these margins.
It isn’t, as others have stated, as if the Treasury don’t know this. They are fully aware of the issues in schools funding. Independent Government offices have provided unequivocal evidence of the need. The Department for Education, the Education Select Committee and many hard working constituency MPs who have listened to their schools and their parents have been lobbying furiously behind the scenes for a long time to have this issue addressed. Many speak openly of the political price they paid previously and their desire to avoid a similar scenario in the future.
What we needed and what we will demand from the Comprehensive Spending Review is a root and branch overhaul of the austerity shouldered by schools who now represent the 4th emergency service for our communities plugging gaps in social, emotional and health provision; at times providing transport, food and clothing for families where austerity politics have left children without.So, just because we are reasonable, because we are patient but also because we are relentless and fiercely protective of our communities let there be no doubt…. THIS is what we need and the opportunity lost in yesterday’s own goal of a budget announcement:
- The resolution of the issue of basic pupil funding. AWPU is so low that the gaps between the lowest and higher funded LAs remain significant even under new NFF arrangements.
- The resolution of the unfunded element of salaries, both teaching and support staff which no matter what injections of pockets of money is an ongoing and ever increasing proportion of our budgets.
- The resolution to SEND funding which addresses the needs created by the unfunded reforms and increasing demand, preventing transfers to the High Needs Block which is still happening in some areas.
- Addressing the significant reduction to LA services which means as they resort to “statutory duties only” schools are acting as an unsustainable unfunded 4th emergency service.
- A resolution to the disparity of post-16 funding. At £4000 per pupil, there is a growing campaign to #rasietherate and address cuts which represent 20% loss of funding.
So whilst as intelligent informed professionals we can recognise the bigger picture and exercise yet more patience, the justifiable anger was for the tone and the manner of the delivery.
Treat us with greater respect. We have been derided by politicians for years whilst being expected to deliver in some of the most challenging circumstances with little but criticism for our efforts: enemies of promise, gamers of exams, bringers of workload and harbingers of teacher stress. We have deflected all this whilst still protecting and defending our communities but please, do not demean all of us with such patronising rhetoric. Please don’t undermine the British Values that Politics should represent. Acknowledge the issues, stop deceiving and obfuscating the facts. Try something radical – present us with a clear timetabled plan that provides us with the resources that allow us to do the job we are trained to do and are passionate to deliver.
Our students, our families and our staff deserve better. Enough is enough.