Before becoming a headteacher, it’s normal to worry about managing the finances of a school. After all, even a fairly small primary can have a budget of nearly a million pounds each year: that’s a lot of money to be responsible for, and where do you even begin? In truth, it’s not quite like that, as you soon discover when you get anywhere near school budgeting. By the time you’ve paid for your staff, insurances, county services, utility bills and standard office requirements, you soon realise that the bit of the budget you actually get to work with is fairly limited.
I can only presume that Damian Hinds feels similarly frustrated when it comes to running the Department for Education. A budget of in the tens of billions, but most of it already accounted for. Perhaps this explains his current approach of tinkering around the edges. While schools cry out for additional funding to meet basic needs, to support pupils with SEN, and to counter the damage done by reducing local authority services, what does he offer us? A couple of million to spend on primary careers education.
I wasn’t aware of anyone clamouring for this spend, but perhaps somebody somewhere was lobbying for it and is now pleased. It seems an odd use of money though, given that according to the DfE itself, 96 per cent of primary schools are already offering some form of careers education. Compare that to the Swim England’s finding that only 94 per cent of schools delivered the swimming requirements for the statutory National Curriculum. Perhaps that £2.5 million could have been spent on supporting schools with transport and access to swimming?
More to the point, why this obsession about making careers education appear ever earlier in the curriculum? Ignoring the fact that we already have a crammed timetable in primary schools, what are we hoping that 10-year-olds will take from these new lessons? I think many primary children have no idea what they want to do when they grow up – and I think that’s okay. Primary education shouldn’t be about preparation for the world of work.
Careers education for 10-year-olds?
That’s not to say we ignore it altogether, but it’s hardly a priority. The world of careers is enormous, and there should be no hurry to make any decisions. It’s bad enough that we force young people to deliberately narrow their curriculum at 14; I certainly don’t want children to be ruling anything in or out any sooner.
A message I try always to give my classes is that education is about providing choices. You may not have many in school, but the point of a broad curriculum and good academic outcomes isn’t about those things in themselves so much as it is about providing the widest possible range of choices later on. And that should include careers.
The claim that our children will mostly do jobs that ‘haven’t been invented yet’ has long been discredited, but it’s certainly true to say that many of the jobs our pupils will end up doing are almost impossible to imagine at the age of 9 – and again, that’s okay. It surely can’t be a priority to introduce children who can’t yet calculate VAT to the idea of tax inspectors; yet surely some of them will become one.
It’s hard, too, to avoid a tokenistic approach: dragging in three random adults to tell us how important it is to word hard for our English and Maths SATs, as though every career constantly requires us to calculate the area of triangles.
Chances are, of course, that £2.5 million will disappear quickly with few schools ever seeing much for it. If only we could be talking about real sums of money that would actually make a difference.
Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT197