Diary of a headteacher: Dealing with redundancies

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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Tight budgets and falling rolls means that our headteacher diarist has had to deal with difficult staff redundancies...

During the summer, I read an article entitled How to hack a cheap break in the school holidays. Interesting reading for anyone who works in schools. After 25 years in the profession, my experience is that you really can’t hack a cheap trip during the holidays.

This year, our summer term continued all the way up until July 24. That would not have seemed quite so late if every other local school and even those in our neighbouring boroughs had not all broken up on the 19th. Some before that. At least the streets of east London were empty of the usual school rush.

I left my own three children at home with my teacher-partner. All four had broken up long before me.

It meant that we booked our family holiday to travel on July 27. We were constricted by differing end of term dates and the necessity to be back for A level and GCSE results days. The different end of term dates cost us significantly. Had I broken up at the same time as my family we would have been able to travel on July 20 – we would have saved £750.

Even the other schools in our trust (far from London) closed their doors for summer the Friday before us. Our students were tired, staff worn out and the work on the condemned swimming pool could not start until we had all vacated the building.

This summer has seen extensive work to get the school ready for the new term. The biggest job was the swimming pool conversion. We did not get quite the size of investment we needed to deliver everything I had hoped for the new dining room, but we have definitely ended up much better off than we were before.

For the first time, we have a dining room that can seat 320 students at a time. This is a major investment that will really improve the experience of students at the school.

What happens in a school where you have inherited a large financial deficit and falling student roll? The end of term is extra busy. It is not just the regular planning for the next year, but we have to contend with the consequences of the financial issues too.

Last year – my first summer as headteacher – I had to lead staff farewells following a redundancy process. It was a process started and seen through by the four headteachers prior to me. The interim heads were coming and going at speed in recent times. We lost nearly 30 staff in one fell swoop in July 2018. For a relatively small school like ours, that number leaving had a major impact.

Unfortunately, though, the on-going effect of the falling roll was not resolved last year. This summer, although we did not have the same volume of staff departing, some were leaving in the knowledge that the school could not continue with our current staffing structure. Difficult times.

We all work in environments where money is ever tighter. There are many schools like mine that are working their way out of unfavourable and highly critical Ofsted judgements. Many with falling rolls and difficult budgets. We are certainly not alone.

Knowing that other schools are facing the same problems as us does not ease the burden. As headteacher, it is my job to secure what is best for my students. It is abundantly clear that, to get the best for the students, I also need to do my utmost to care for my staff. They are my single most valuable asset. Reconciling all that needs to be done is hard when the budgetary sums just do not add up.

I can only hope that things change. For us to secure the greatest possible educational experience for our students, we need the finances to make schools work. My school needs to survive and thrive, we need the financial support to make that happen.

  • The author is a headteacher in her second year of headship at a secondary school in east London.


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