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This year, raise a glass to toast a (Jules) White Christmas…

This week Tes reveals its 10 people of the year – and top of list is a headteacher from Sussex who single-handedly rallied thousands of school leaders to march on Downing Street, writes Ann Mroz

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In what is now a tradition (it’s our second year), the team at Tes has chosen the 10 people of the year. These are the people we have felt have been the most influential on the education scene and who have impressed us the most.

It’s an entirely unscientific process, punctuated by passionate argument and tantrums (naming no names, Ed Dorrell). It is, of course, subject to the whims of the editor. But, by some strange quirk, we all agreed on the overall person of the year.

It’s been a year in which those born to greatness have done little, some ordinary people have achieved greatness and some have had greatness thrust upon them. It is in essence a year that belongs not to the powers that be but to the grass roots.

Primary teacher Heather Wright set up the wonderfully joyful Reading Rocks. Using her blog, social media and conferences, she has enabled book-loving teachers to share ideas, teaching tips and, so importantly, to promote reading for pleasure.

There was also the stunning power of pupil voice born from the tragedy of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, in which 17 students and staff members were killed.

Closer to home, however, another powerful grassroots movement took hold, led by a “regular bloke” who has never been a member of a political party and never taken part in a sit-in or any sort of industrial action.

Until Jules White launched a national school funding campaign, he had never so much as attended a protest. This didn’t stop him rallying 2,000 fellow headteachers to march on Downing Street in September to call for a reversal of the real-terms cuts schools have faced over the past eight years.

This was no mean feat: school leaders don’t demonstrate; they are known more for their pragmatism than their activism. But funding cuts had taken their toll and they took issue with government politely and professionally, as befits their office, earning themselves a rebuke from media commentator Robert Peston for being so well-behaved.

This protest did not come out of the blue, however. It followed “three years of relentlessly reasonable campaigning”.

During this time, White’s WorthLess? campaign has pulled in more than 6,000 headteachers from up and down the country and given school leaders the confidence to speak out.

Despite having no campaigning background, he came up with some attention-grabbing ideas, such as “invoicing” the Treasury for £3.5 billion – the amount campaign supporters say they would receive under a fairer funding system – and, most powerfully of all, sending coordinated letters to parents, warning that cash shortages were putting their children’s education at risk.

He is, however, a “one-man band” who squeezes campaigning into his schedule by getting up at 5am on weekends. During the week, he runs an “outstanding” secondary school, Tanbridge House in Horsham, where he has been head for 10 years.

It was driving home from his school one Friday evening, listening to local radio, that was the catalyst for White. “There was some fella from the DfE [saying] that there’s never been more money spent in education, and there are more teachers than ever,” he recalls.

“I was thinking, ‘I’ve got a hell of a lot going for me in this school. It’s about as good as it gets in state education – but we’re clinging on. I can’t get maths and English teachers, my class sizes are rising, I’ve got absolutely no money, I’ve not got enough TAs to cover kids with statements. We’re cut to the bone.’”

He did what everyone does – “effing and blinding” at the radio because he “can’t stand bullshit”. But then he decided to do what few others choose to: he put his swear words into actions.

And we’re grateful that he did. Jules White, Tes person of the year for 2018, you’re an “effing” inspiration to us all.

@AnnMroz