Year in review: a headteacher’s perspective on 2015

It’s all very different from the Michael Gove years (and they weren’t great), with layers of “extra things” now applied without much thought

You can tell it’s Christmas because I’ve sorted my end-of-year quiz for my last year 11 class. Working with teenagers every day is the best thing about this job. But the system in which we are educating them has gone berserk this year.

The word that popped into my head when thinking about a review was: “confusion”. It’s as if schools have been cut adrift from sense with no coherent argument about how things will improve beyond “everyone must become an academy”.

Academisation isn’t going to help with the big issues, though: disappearing budgets and disappearing teachers.

We knew a few years ago that things would be difficult for us as we have a low birth rate in our area. We did a huge restructure, which has left us with a staff cost less than 80 per cent of our income — our target. Then we were hit with the national insurance and pension increases, which have wiped out any chance of avoiding a deficit, and we have to get out of that deficit within three years. How?

In real terms, the money we have to work with is being cut by 8 per cent. The living wage is coming next year, and that isn’t funded by the government. We can only pay wages from the money given to us so we will be forced to rob Peter to pay Paul.

The national funding formula is held up as a way of solving these issues. We won’t be a big loser or gainer. But it’s a nervous wait as we don’t know what will happen with budgets from 2017. If I can have one new year wish, it would be that the government tell us what’s going on as soon as possible. (If there are any second wishes, I’d also quite like a small village built on the outskirts of Wadhurst to boost my pupil numbers, thanks).

Schools have been cut adrift from sense

And what about “workload”? At the end of last year Nicky Morgan said it was a priority. Now it seems that it’s all the fault of headteachers. But how can we manage it down when we are battling a new Ofsted framework, the abolition of levels, new GCSEs, new A-levels, the new Prevent duty?

In fact, don’t get me started on the growing issues with safeguarding. At one time I could refer safeguarding or parenting issues to an outside agency. Now these problems are passed back to school, even though I don’t have the training to ring up a parent and coach him or her on their parenting skills.

If we don’t solve workload burdens then we are going to have a teacher shortage. We have struggled for three years: geography had four candidates — a big field!

I joined the executive body of Sussex University’s PGCE to try to get teachers from there, but at every meeting the leaders are sitting with their phones to find which courses are closed. The number of trainees they can recruit is now capped nationally and they are finding out, day-by-day, if they must stop recruitment. What is the logic in that? A university in Manchester fills up its history teacher training course so that means Sussex can’t take any more. How are we supposed to recruit a history teacher if they are all trained in the north?

Education is not the place I recognise from five years ago. We had Gove and his whirlwind of reform. Did I agree with his methods? No. Did I agree with his pronouncements? No. In the end were the changes necessary? If I whisper it, I say “probably yes”. What we have now, though, is layer upon layer of extra things applied in the most confused way.

It feels like a very black cloud is looming over 2016. Thank goodness for the teenagers who at least brighten the days.

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  1. S Ellison

    And don’t forget that you need to work out what to do instead of Levels, while you’re busy reducing those workloads. We don’t have a clue how next year’s progress or attainment will be judged. All we know is that it will be judged.