You can tell when we get past Easter; the exam years building up to the final push, staff seemingly ever available to the majority who are seeking to squeeze every ounce from their preparation, the minority who finally “get it” and realise the importance of what we have been saying when it’s almost too late, year 7 showing signs of greater maturity but also less tiredness as they become acclimatised to life in a very large secondary school, and then there are the staff who keep everything going.
This is the time of year when the teaching staff are being pulled from pillar to post – getting in grades to the boards, teaching, timetabling, planning for next year, as well as keeping themselves going after what, for us, has been an incredibly tough year.
Support staff are busy getting planning permissions for building work we want to complete over the summer to match the needs of our ever-increasing 6th form, finance has completed the year-end, data staff are moving towards it for most year groups and gearing up to work with the exams team for what promises to be a very busy time.
At the height of exams we will have more than 700 students taking papers in the halls – the sports hall, smaller rooms for those with scribes or readers, or offices for students who need to be on their own for whatever reason.
We have more exam candidates than the total roll of some schools and we very nearly got to the limit of our invigilators at one point.
I have total admiration for our exams team – all two of them! They work together with a large team of invigilators, our director of learning support and vast numbers of students with an ever-increasing variety of needs and remarkably they always manage to remain calm, focused and in command.
The latest addition to their armoury is some “Wimbledon green and purple” roller boxes with handles for pulling heavy loads of papers around. Very snazzy!
It is also the time of year for finalising the budget. I always say that the two things that keep me awake as headteacher are the budget and decisions about permanent exclusions. I’ve had both to worry about both recently as on top of some tough decisions about finance, we also have to make a decision about a student who is just not turning it around for themselves.
On the finance front, we are the second lowest funded school in a low-funded authority at £4,500 per student against £6,900 in my last headship (in the same authority). This is partly explained by a difference in social deprivation funding, but our catchment postcodes mask significant pockets of deprivation.
Added to this is an increase of £500,000 in support staff salaries next year taking into account the incremental rises following single status and pay awards and the fact that we are trying to reduce our pupil-teacher ratio – without changes in funding formulae we will find it very difficult two years down the line.
I find it very difficult to reconcile the deficits that my current finances and therefore my current students face as I know just what we could do if we had the money!
Yet, nationally we still feel the need apparently to fund ever more free schools!
My worry is that the current situation regarding educational provision will implode at some point, the next generation of politicians will cry “ it wasn’t us, guv”, and the next generation of heads will be left to try to sort out the mess. No surprise, it’s also the time of year when I’m glad to be the age I am!
Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.