Headteacher Judy Shaw: ‘My staff are fantastic but they can’t fight poverty’

On Judy Shaw’s first day as a headteacher, a man came to show her one of the school’s vast brick walls. She recalls: “He said, ‘Is that pointing all right for you then?’ and I stood there and I thought, this job is not what I thought it was going to be.” She writes in The Guardian.

But 14 years later Shaw is still headteacher of Tuel Lane infant school in Sowerby Bridge, a town nestled along the River Calder in West Yorkshire. In that time she has learned about many things, as well as bricks and mortar, including the telltale signs of the child who doesn’t get enough to eat at home, or the parent unable to cope who turns to the local school for help.

For the next year, though, Shaw is taking her hard-earned skills on to a national stage when she becomes the National Association of Head Teachers’ president, the head’s head, as it where, of the organisation that represents the bulk of the country’s primary school leaders.

“The changes in the education system in Britain over the last five, six, seven years, since Michael Gove was secretary of state, have been relentless. And that’s one of the reasons why I want to do this new role. School leadership is hardly recognisable,” Shaw said.

“We’re surrounded on three sides by the front doors and back doors of our families. My staff know when children haven’t got a warm jumper or a coat, my lunchtime staff know who hasn’t had any breakfast at home. This Christmas – and this is 21st-century Britain – we knew of families that had no lights, no heating, no running hot water, in their household.”

“My staff do a fantastic job, and we try to be a bright light in this community, where people will come for help. But when you see poverty like that, when you see families with no heat or hot water, when you see the issues and the debts that families are in. When you see those living conditions, and you see the faces of the children, with shoes that have got holes in them, that drives me mad.”

Austerity is hitting closer to home as Shaw faces further rounds of budget cuts, with figures from the House of Commons library showing education spending in the school’s ward falling by nearly £400 per pupil since 2013-14.

“I might work in a Victorian building but this is not Victorian Britain, and it shouldn’t be a Victorian-style education that we give our children.”

Shaw’s particular concern is the ending of council funding and services for special needs pupils and for those with additional needs.

“Once a child has a diagnosis the school and their family can access specialist support and guidance on how to support a child who is, for example, on the autistic spectrum. But while that child is still on the waiting list the school can only get that support for £110 an hour locally. So that gives me another problem: do I put another bucket under a dripping roof and spend that money on ensuring that child has access to specialist support? Because if I don’t that child can’t access learning.”

Read the full article Headteacher Judy Shaw: ‘My staff are fantastic but they can’t fight poverty’

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