Schools’ biggest problems are funding and the teacher supply. Our funding problems are a result of national austerity measures, a much-postponed decision to move to a national funding formula, and the London issue.
National austerity means that funding has been stagnant for some time, the increased spending that the government claims being because of more children in the system (schools are funded per child). The national funding formula combined with austerity means that the total existing money is to be shared out more fairly.
That’s good, but there are as many losers as winners. We would be losers. This combines with the London issue. London schools were funded more highly because of higher costs, of course, but also through the London Challenge, the initiative which improved the achievement of London schools so radically this century. On top of that, there were pension and NI changes which were unfunded, costing school budgets more.
The teacher supply issue is a real nightmare. Routes into teaching are very complicated and have been decentralised. This combined with static pay and publicity about unmanageable workloads to deter applications, so its many years since government teacher recruitment targets were met. In London, teachers leave to move to areas where they can afford housing.
The link between funding and workload is harder to explain. Schools spend most of their money on teachers so when budgets have to be reduced, we employ fewer teachers. That means three things. Each teacher teaches more of the week, each class is bigger, and schools discontinue particular courses. Or all three. All those add to the work of remaining teachers. Recruitment does the same thing: an unfillable science post after Christmas led to existing teachers getting more classes and some classes welcoming more students.
All those affect the service parents expect from teachers. More and larger classes mean less non-contact time and more marking. More marking leads to less frequency, and parents worry about that. I worry about everything. Hence the gridlock. We sit in our schools hooting wildly, but no one opens the flow in any direction. The answer is more money, but will that ever be the message?
I look out of the window and espy a child, teacher and standard lamp combo. It looks like a nice DT product, so I can only speculate on why it’s been taken for a walk. An inveterate shorts-wearer skips past, obviously feeling the equinox to be satisfactory. Two sirs seek a child who left me in the regular manner but is now elsewhere from where he should be. Year 10 are doing mock exams and so we are still in shushing mode. In fact, next year I might instigate a rule where everyone may only say shush on the first floor of block 4 between December and June. Beat that with a stick, silent-corridor schools.
I tangle with some year 10s who let us down badly earlier in the week, and I’m reading a journal about all the things we ask of the adolescent brain while it’s still rewiring itself. However, it doesn’t excuse these malefactors. I’m daunted by the papers’ erudition but that may be faulty wiring affected by my own adolescence downwind of a chemical works. There’s a whole chapter on myths, and I know a bit about those. Especially the ones about running schools without teachers or money.
Unexpectedly, a second pair of shorts crosses my vision while I have a cordial and witty row with a trusted colleague. His parting shot is that it’s not worth carrying on a fight he’s not going to win. That’s just defeatism. Many human myths are about battles of endurance and he might yet win, unlike the children of austerity with no teachers. That’s a battle against the odds and it’s just not fair.
A youth renowned for Irish dancing scissors across the bridge in the between-lunch quiet, thinking no one’s looking. He’s a fine sight. You’ve got to love it.