Finally, I have found some writing time to catch up with all the amazing (and slightly alarming) things that have been happening in and around me over the past three weeks. There have been some really wonderful things happening at school – the three most significant, I suppose, have been
- Two astonishing Year 4 performances of Steve Titford’s Shakespeare Rocks, a play that put the 2B pencil into Hamlet, and which was performed with phenomenal verve, volume and vivacity by a wonderfully committed group of 60 children
- Two beautiful days of Prayer Space reflection, coordinated by our chaplaincy team and rooted in, and interpreting beautifully, all the work we have done this term on Jesus’ “I am” statements from the gospel of John. As a result, we have completed the circle of learning, giving children opportunity to reflect back all the learning to something where God could break in and enable the reality of his love and peace to take hold.
- Two equally delightful art days across the whole school, on the Monday and Tuesday of this week. Teachers took a topic they could develop through a whole day then ran it with two different groups of children. As a result, children have produced “art” as diverse as improvised drama and choral speaking, printmaking, clay modelling, henna painting, Bollywood dance, collage, capoeira, card making and needlepoint.
Each of these really deserves a whole post on their own, but we have put some news items on the school site that will serve for now. All three events have helped us as a school see ourselves differently, and it is vital that we keep doing that, as we come to a season where we will enjoy/endure (perspective is all!) inspection visits from SIAMS and OFSTED.
Another reason for needing to write has been the growing realisation, suddenly made clear through a period of mild depression and severe exhaustion, of my own need to download into print (well, digital marks, anyway) the successes we continue to have as a school. One of the great things about having to report to my governing body in such depth each term is the fact that I have a record of what we have done and what the impact of that is. If you read the letters of the younger Pliny (or any classical figure, really) you will see how important it is to them that they have a legacy; the way they were thought of and regarded after their death was of first importance to them. This is a very human reaction – to download our successes to the next generation, or to paper, or to a blog. It is important to me, as I think it must have been to Pliny in his world, to report and interpret to others the narrative of our school. Even the writing of it brings comfort and encouragement, making what we have achieved more real.
Amongst other recent successes, we (not I – there are wiser financial heads than I in my organisation!) have made serious attempts to balance and produce a good budget for next year, in the face of what was a £65k shortfall in funding from the LA compared with last year, and it looks at the moment (can’t promise!) that we will not have to restructure this year. We presented the budget to governors last Wednesday evening, and since then, if anything, the situation has marginally improved. However, the long term situation for most schools remains dire. A recent letter to the Times (21 March) by Dylan Wiliam summed up the present funding debate better than anything I have read:
The real problem with school funding is that the cost of education will generally rise faster than the rate of inflation. To recruit and retain good teachers, teacher salaries have to rise at the same rate as those with similar qualifications and skills. The costs of education — mostly teacher salaries — therefore rise in line with our standard of living, which is usually higher than inflation. Moreover, in recent years, the value of graduate level skills has risen sharply, so teacher salaries have to rise even faster to be competitive. However, unlike other areas of the economy, there have been no real productivity increases in education. Other forms of capital spending have equally little impact — as long as classrooms are warm and dry, extra spending on school buildings has little impact on student achievement. Until politicians realise that capping increases in education budgets at the rate of inflation will always be a real-terms cut, we are going to continue to lurch from crisis to crisis.
I found this strangely comforting. The deck-chair rearranging of the £34.2 billion that is the new National Funding Formula is simply that – money going to different places than it did before, but not enough, actually for anyone. Numbers in schools are increasing, and will do until this government decides to restrict immigration (or sex, I suppose), and teachers need to be paid at more competitive rates, whilst there is no income coming back from schools (this is not their purpose!). £34.2 billion, as grand as it sounds, is not enough now and will not be in the future. We will make the best of it, as we already do, but already we can see the impact on actual children, and we have not even lost any staff yet…
What the government could do is boost business confidence, increase the amount coming to the exchequer from all those productive people our schools produce, and make our businesses more competitive – but withdrawing from our chief trading partners, as we have just committed to do, is not going to help too much.
So. Here’s an idea that no-one has thought of since June. How about joining the EU? I am sure they would welcome us with open arms. And we might even get a majority of Brits to vote for it, should we do anything as foolish as hold a referendum to ask them.