Nonetheless, I’m recognisable among the Tallis horde. On the bridge yesterday we inquired civilly after each other’s half-terms. The bridge flows best with minimal supervision and the occasional left-right reminder, but all was nearly brought to confusion by a pair of small girls with pointy eared hairbands who rushed across the path of year 11 boys three times their size. Popular imagination would expect them to be unpleasant, but they just muttered (woah!) and tutted about The Youth of Today needing to learn how to cross traffic.
We keep things going like this most of the time. A pleasant word, a bit of oversight, some minor hassling and not much shouting. The adult-child ratio, not over-generous, enables this, as does the number of teachers who’ve been at it for years and who can sort out a queue with a raised eyebrow and a click of the fingers. Not quite an idyll, an inner-London comprehensive, but it works for us.
Imagine such a school however, with fewer adults, with less experience, with more children. Imagine that lots of the teachers are inexperienced, unqualified, on short-term contracts. Imagine that the classrooms are a mess because no-one’s there long enough to claim them and the children, whose attendance starts to slide, don’t know who they’ll have for maths, or French because they’re in year 8 and they’ve been re-timetabled four times this year so the permanent teachers get the exam classes. Imagine not having your own form tutor. Imagine that inner-city school with no pastoral staff, no one with time to comfort a desperate child, no one to go to the meeting with social services (who haven’t got any long-term staff either). Imagine thresholds so high for mental health support that only a child in hospital (if there’s a bed) gets an appointment with a medic. Imagine no bands and teams, trips and visits. Imagine no visitors because we can’t pay them and don’t have enough staff to manage behaviour in front of strangers. Imagine no time for International Day or Black History Month or the Big Draw, no Christmas tree, no rewards. Imagine day after day only of subjects that count for the latest version of the accountability measures, in big classes in cold rooms with broken computers and no text books. That’s what the funding future looks like.
The two biggest problems facing schools aren’t anything to do with structures or super-selective grammar schools – though they’re stupid enough diversions – but funding and the teacher shortage. Funding is too low, but now the comparatively better-funded are being reduced to the level of the poorest-funded in the name of fairness. It takes a special skill to generate a teacher shortage in a recession when there are more graduates then ever, but that’s what’s happened. And so we face the ghastly consequences of political ideology versus the public sector (‘safe in our hands’). The facts are denied: no, there are not more children, and no, more of them don’t have special needs. Dogmatic posturing interfering with professional leadership means no-one wants the jobs: accountability pressures make it foolish to stake your mortgage or your children’s futures on an unstable career ladder. No central planning of teacher supply mean there’s no one to help anyone’s children’s future, but still the government says it’ll be alright in the end. Does anyone in government actually care about children?
No funding and no teachers means that the teachers who are left can’t cope and can’t afford to do it: as the Education Select Committee’s report said on Tuesday:
a key driver for teachers considering leaving the profession is unmanageable workload. It is important for people to understand that the current education funding crisis is contributing significantly to these workload pressures. Schools are having to cut the number of teaching and support staff, and this inevitably means more work for those who remain. We would also point out that successive caps on teachers’ pay over several years have greatly devalued salaries in real terms and this issue also needs to be addressed. More investment in education should be a national priority.