Being brave

Blog
01 November 2017 by Josie Whiteley
Rather impetuously I stated at the end of my first blog that school and college leaders need to be brave, to stand up and be counted. What exactly did I mean by that and how realistic is it? 

If we accept we are in an age of austerity then that would suggest we accept some cuts to budgets but there is a point where what we need to do we cannot possibly deliver for the budget given. And who is going to stand up for the students, if not us? We’re the experts, we’re the ones who have taught hundreds of children and young people and now manage and lead our colleagues doing the teaching.  

As leaders, it is our duty to ensure we have the correctly qualified people in classrooms with the relevant CPD and experiences to deliver vibrant, high-quality teaching. We also have a duty of care to our staff teams, which involves considering their mental health and well-being, as well as the safety of the physical spaces they work in. 

If we can agree a figure of £4,800 as a minimum cost to educate a secondary school student, then how can it be right that some schools are trying to survive on hundreds of pounds less per head? It just doesn’t add up.

Parents became very aware of variations in funding because of the school cuts campaign before the last general election, which focused attention on the unfairness. Around 750,000 voters changed their vote because of concerns around school funding.

Having been reticent to speak out individually, there was a confidence from both senior leaders and governors about making the situation public when the school cuts website became available. This tool allowed schools to realise they could speak out without fear of being branded useless/inefficient/incompetent/inadequate.  

So, what can we learn from this? 

That there is strength in numbers, strength in schools all taking a stand, strength in parents voicing their objections. We need to make sure this now happens in further education colleges because parents tend to take a back seat as their child heads into adulthood.

Do parents know how post-16 colleges are funded and how much each student “earns” for the college? Do they realise the impact of the maths and English re-sit policy and its effect on funding? I suspect not. Do we think there are parents out there who would prefer that their child could take a more appropriate and functional maths or English qualification at college and not be forced into doing something they repeatedly fail?  

When did colleges stop being a place for young people who had struggled at school to be offered a second choice with a different type of curriculum?  

I suppose the answer to that is at about the same time the dogma-driven narrowing of the pre-16 curriculum started to bite, with creative subjects such as music, art, dance and design disappearing from the school timetable.  

Michael Gove’s 1950s view of education - those halcyon days when children were seen and not heard - is very far removed from where we are today as a society. As educators, leaders in education in fact, don’t we have a duty to challenge this archaic notion? To say that enough is enough? To insist that we look at other education systems such as that in Finland, which does not change every time the Government of the day changes direction?

To lead ethically, in fact. To be brave and do the right thing by our children and young people. Now is the time to stand up and say enough is enough. 

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