Tomorrow, our annual conference opens in Birmingham. We’ll be welcoming more than 1,000 school and college leaders from across the UK, as well as a host of luminaries from the education world. So now is perhaps a good time to reflect on my first year as general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. I have spent that time listening to our members, understanding the challenges they face, taking the temperature and seeing the brilliant work which goes on, day in and day out, in our schools and colleges.
Here are five things I have learned:
1. Funding matters above everything else
Funding is the gateway to every decision that we make – on curriculum, staffing, on support for the young people who need extra support, on – well everything. And the funding crisis in our schools and colleges threatens all of that. What I have seen is leaders having to make impossible decisions about what to cut, trying to balance budgets that will just not balance. The choice they face is stark: staffing numbers, curriculum options, support services, enrichment activities. There is nowhere else to go.
To give credit to the Department for Education, it has tried. Former education secretary Justine Greening managed to redirect £1.3 billion into school funding over the next two years. And the department has grasped the nettle of funding distribution – the historic unfairness of similar schools in different parts of the country receiving different levels of funding. Its commitment to a new funding formula is something previous governments have ducked.
2. Funding is also a social mobility issue
Because the lack of funding threatens the breadth of the curriculum, it means that schools have no choice other than to reduce their subject options as well as cutting back on their after-school clubs, trips and sports fixtures. Most seriously, it puts in jeopardy non-EBacc subjects like music, dance, design and drama. It drives us towards the narrow core defined by the English Baccalaureate. Our colleagues in the independent sector know the importance of a broad curriculum, of a wide range of clubs and activities that give their students wonderful, enriching opportunities. Every child deserves that breadth – not just those whose parents can afford it.
3. Recruitment and retention can be fixed
It isn’t going to be easy. Teacher supply is an issue for virtually every school, every college. And, like funding, it is a social mobility issue. Those schools worst affected are often those in the most challenging circumstances: where the lack of candidates means they are most reliant on supply staff and non-specialists. In the very schools where we need the best, most experienced teachers, we have the biggest recruitment problems.
But it can be fixed. There are some things that the government can and must do.
Do you agree with Geoff? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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