It will come as no surprise to anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock (or in the Treasury) that there’s no money left in teaching. In the arena of cost-cutting we’ve gone way past the point where banning colour photocopying will do the job and it’s now quite commonplace to hear of schools asking parents to provide stationery, books and even toilet paper.
For me, the most damaging aspect of the cuts is the lack of staff. I don’t remember a time when funding issues meant the only option was to lose people. Since a school is only as good as the people who work in it (and since I have never seen an adult working in a school who was not permanently rushed off their feet) it follows that there is no way you can do this without the effects being deeply felt. Cutting teachers or support staff is never a case of going without little extra luxuries. Teaching assistants are not luxuries. Cover teachers are not luxuries. Time out of class for a Sendco is not a luxury. These things exist because they are vital if we want to give every child the education, care and attention they deserve.
A primary school near us (in a well-to-do leafy middle-class area) currently has a Year 6 class of 40 children taught by one teacher with no teaching assistant. Their Year 2 class only has a teacher for four days a week (the fifth day a teaching assistant takes charge) and the school has resorted to handing over parts of the maths curriculum to parents, claiming this is the only way they will get all the content topic covered.
The older siblings of these children didn’t have to do this. They were taught in smaller classes; they had a teacher five days a week; they had a teaching assistant to support them, they didn’t use window sills as desks. In short, they had a much higher quality of education and all because they were born a few years earlier.
The parents are obviously unhappy but what options do they have? Even if local schools have places, most parents are understandably reluctant to move their child in their final year of primary school.
This school is not unique. There is no end to the ways in which lack of funds affects a school community: it puts unbearable pressure on leaders and governors who have to make decisions that go directly against their beliefs and vision; it adds to an already heavy workload, saps morale and exhausts good will.
Surely, at this point, those who hold the purse strings must realise it’s time to respond? Politicians are parents. Would they be happy for their child to be taught maths by an exhausted geography teacher in a class of 46? The level of their understanding was neatly illustrated by DfE minister Lord Agnew who last week offered a bottle of champagne to any school at which he could not find economic waste.
Do ministers really believe that schools are no more than businesses to be streamlined? That education is simply a matter of making strategic decisions to balance the books and that the most satisfied and successful headteachers are those who with the happiest bank balances?
If children are getting a great experience in school it’s despite, not because, of the government. So if you find yourself at a Christmas fayre in the next few weeks please dig deep – and if you’re the winner of that elusive champagne on the bottle tombola, considering gifting it to the headteacher. There’s a very good chance they’ve earned it.
Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym for a teacher in the Midlands. She tweets @jo_brighouse.