Diary of a Headteacher: Thanks for not a lot, Phil...

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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It has saddened and infuriated many in school leadership to see the government – once again – ignore the funding crisis in education

I’m picturing the scenes in Westminster last week. Philip Hammond is putting the finishing touches to the Autumn Budget – his masterpiece that “finally brings austerity to an end”.

“Hey Damian, I’ve got a few quid flying around at the end here and I’m not sure what we should spend it on, any ideas?”

The Secretary of State for Education spits out his tea, exclaiming “blimey Phil, didn’t you see all those headteachers protesting so politely last month, let’s give it to them so they can buy all those ‘little extras’ they keep banging on about”.

As you can probably tell I’m still reeling from the announcement of a paltry additional £400 million allocated for schools in the Autumn Budget.

Yet again it feels like education is an after-thought for this government and this saddens and infuriates me greatly. Equating to around £10,000 for primary schools and £50,000 for secondary schools, I can finally reassure my staff that we can now, after all this time, upgrade to the holy grail of premium brand bullet tip whiteboard pens. No more slumming it for us with visits to the pound shop for our markers!

In fact, why stop there? We could start splashing out on premium brand biscuits for the staffroom – goodbye to chocolate-flavoured, hello genuine chocolate! I might also start letting staff print again. If I’m feeling really generous they could print in colour.

This is one of those moments where, unless you laugh about it, you’d cry. Because there is no doubt there have been many tears shed in the past decade due to the crippling cuts schools have been faced with. Despite all the rhetoric proclaiming that record amounts of money is being invested in education, we know from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that since 2010 we have faced real-terms cuts of eight per cent.

Careers have ended prematurely, resources been stripped away from young people’s education and the teaching profession has been consistently asked to do more with less. No wonder we have a recruitment and retention crisis.

The recent announcement is nothing short of an insult and while we always welcome additional funds when they come our way, we only do this through desperation. We have been starved of adequate resources for far too long and this additional cash, while better than nothing, can only ever paper over the cracks, temporarily stop the bleeding or keep the wolves from our door for a short time.

It was interesting to hear ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton’s statement regarding the budget: “Many schools don’t have enough money to provide a full curriculum or individual support to pupils, let alone provide ‘little extras’. What they desperately need is improved core funding. It is a sign of the government’s priorities that it is spending more on fixing potholes than on fixing the school funding crisis.”

He’s right of course, and the dire reality is that I cannot remember a time within my four years of headship where I have not had to make members of staff redundant, merge roles, delete roles and ask the people remaining in school to do the same jobs, or more, with fewer resources. I cannot guarantee that subjects such as music, drama, dance, design technology or art will be available each year for students as we can only run these qualifications if the class size is financially viable.

I have to be extremely creative with how our SEN staff are deployed and this significant decrease in provision puts more pressure onto teaching staff. I have had to strip back the support staff to the bare bones in two schools now in order to make the staffing model financially viable, and this constant cycle of reduction in capacity ultimately results in students receiving an educational experience that is compromised.

So Phil, thanks very much for the spare cash you found down the back of the sofa. Like all heads across the country I will try my very best to put it to good use so that the students and staff in my school benefit from it. But it simply isn’t enough. We are not happy and our profession will continue to shout very loudly and fight hard for a better deal for the young people we serve.

  • SecEd’s Diary of a Headteacher is written by two different headteachers. The author of this entry is a headteacher, in his fifth year of headship, at a secondary school in the Midlands.


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