The Headteacher's Blog - Monday 22 October 2018

Following my Blog from last week I have received some supportive feedback. Thank you.

We are incredibly challenged in schools to keep providing the high level of education that we do with the shrinking disposable income that we receive.

In fact it is a most peculiar system that sees schools judged on whether they are above or below "the average". Schools are rated on the best 8 subject scores using a benchmark from the KS2 SATs (tests at age 11). The criteria for the subjects that count is very prescriptive too. So basically half the schools nationally are "below average" by the very definition of "average". Kings is way above average and adds nearly a half a grade extra per student than ‘the average’ (with a "Progress 8" score of nearly +0.5). So, in our case we would be meeting a possible criteria of "outstanding". It does seem unfair however, to call half of our schools as "below average" or even ‘failing’. Schools are much more than these simple "numbers."

Schools are also restricted about the types of courses that they are allowed to run and also the courses that they can afford to run. Taking the second point, running Music at GCSE / A Level and Modern Foreign Languages at A Level, for example, for most schools is financially crippling and becoming impossible. The numbers that now opt for these subjects in each school nationally does not pay for the teacher (amount of money per student, per day to allocate to paying a teacher). A few years ago senior staff would allocate more than enough children to other options to allow a loss-making course to run. However, the budgets are so tight in all South West schools that we cannot even make it work by doing that.

I also know that all schools are narrowing their curriculum provision due to cutting costs and are having to have more students in the remaining classes (class sizes go up). This of course puts school leaders into impossible conversations with parents and carers over the running (or not) of some option subjects. As I mentioned in my blog last week, the school has its own bank account out of which it pays staff salaries and the ‘household’ bills. If there is no money, the salaries and bills do not get paid. There is no magic solution. I ask parents and carers to understand what school leaders have to balance here. All of the Headteachers I have spoken to in the last two weeks have said that they are facing these impossible conversations with parents.

We all need to put our case to the people that can make a difference to our schools. It is not the Headteachers or senior staff in this instance, it is the totally unfair funding mechanism that we have in the South West, directed by central government. Fund our schools fairly, along the same funding lines as schools in the other regions and we can unshackle ourselves from the ever tightening constraints that we face in the South West. In a rather crass analogy, being a Headteacher right now does feel like being James Bond in one of those Sean Connery films, strapped to a chair with the laser beam getting closer. On that thought I will now go and learn my lines for the Sixth Form Charities week lip-sync competition. It’s time to be Tom Jones. Let’s hope my voice does get heard though.

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