Funding: Drastic action is needed

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:

The spectre of school finances has been a persistent force since our headteacher diarist took on her first headship. Balancing the books looks likely to be one of the hardest battles she will face...

It didn’t take the submission of the pupil census to see that the finances at my school were still precarious, to say the least.

The result of two requires improvement and a special measures judgement had been an exodus of local children.

We have had reduced student numbers for the past eight years. Our smallest year group has only 87 children on roll; with a PAN of 210 and staffing to match.

The spectre of the finances has lingered over us, even when things have otherwise been going well. In spite of our hard work on our school improvement journey, something needs to change this year. We need to make a sizeable dent in the deficit before we bankrupt our school and our multi-academy trust.

The school has been through a number of teaching and support staff restructures over the course of many years. When I arrived in April 2018, the staff still bore the scars.

I met lots of staff and they told me stories of what they described as a series of botched restructures. They had cried many tears. The impact of reduced funding on a school that felt like a family cannot be understated. Of course, the funding issue is one that affects schools across the country. There are clear causal factors linking underfunding to declining educational outcomes. Underfunding can only result in one thing: inequality of educational provision for our learners.

There are still too many children experiencing an under-funded and under-ambitious curriculum offer. These same children are being taught in broken buildings with sparse resources. I walk into leaky classrooms every time it rains; I know all too well just how bad it can get.

What is the purpose of education? I believe education is designed to facilitate the full and equal participation of all groups in society. Education should be the ultimate leveller. It certainly was for me. I was the first in my family to go to university. As a child from a large council estate in central London, teaching was neither a natural nor predictable career. How did I end up where I am now? That’s simple. I benefited from an incredibly high-quality state education.

As educators, I believe that our aim has to be to achieve equitable and quality education for all students. The problem? We simply don’t have the funding. Inequality of provision means that children are further disadvantaged in two key areas: curriculum offer and resourcing.

Securing an outstanding curriculum offer that can be properly executed has clear financial implications. It is harder to recruit staff in under-funded schools and children are more likely to experience teaching by non-specialist teachers. This becomes a downward spiral and the impact on children is felt for generations.

The same inequalities are illustrated through resourcing. It has become increasingly difficult to access capital funding. It is a postcode lottery as to whether schools are habitable and fit for the core job of learning. This results in inequality across the system.

My school was built in the 1960s and it shows. I may have managed to get my new dining room but, in reality, what we need is a whole new build.

“Glocalisation” is also in action in our contexts. Local areas are becoming more global in terms of their cultural influences.

However, services have yet to catch up or respond to the changing needs of society. Schools have not been provided with the funding, resources, or training needed to meet the needs of our changing society. What areas are we neglecting simply because we can’t afford to access appropriate resourcing?

For my school, we face these issues and more. The spectre of our finances has been a persistent force since I took on my headship. The finances have set the template for the decisions I’ve made. Balancing the books has been the hardest of battles and one we have yet to get right.

We will have to do something drastic. We will have to address our deficit. Most important to me is that we do this job properly. I cannot be the head who treats staff the way they were let down before.

I have to protect the curriculum offer and ensure that our students get the very best quality educational experience. I also have to try to do the best by my staff. This will be no mean feat.

Let’s hope the last two years of headship have afforded me the skills to do this right.

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


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