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‘As a school leader facing two years of cuts, I had to ask the politicians: “What should we cut now?”’

Jude Enright, deputy headteacher of a secondary school in West London (@judeenright) writes:

If the London Festival of Education is Glastonbury for teachers, we were at the survivors’ session.

Buzzing with bright ideas, we still had to drag ourselves to the main stage at the end of the day to hear Sir Tim Brighouse, former London schools commissioner (pictured, above right), Munira Mirza, deputy mayor of London (centre), and Lord Adonis, former Labour schools minister (left), to discuss: “What’s next for education in London and beyond?”

As a London school leader in my second year of redundancies due to significant cuts over two years, there was only one question on my mind. “What should we cut?” I asked the panel. 

Our indefatigable chair Vic Goddard, headteacher of Educating Essex’s Passmores Academy, threw the question to Mirza. Schools have cash reserves, she explained, and we should use these.

“As a maintained school,” I pointed out, “we have no cash reserves because the local authority has ensured that we do not hold any. I know that academies do, but we cannot so we have no cash reserves. What should we cut?”

Goddard demanded: “Answer Jude’s question. What should she cut?”

With the caveat that it depended on our school’s circumstances, Mirza suggested teaching assistants, as research had shown they were not effective. For the effect this had on the audience, she might as well have yelled, “Clear!”, and pressed a defibrillator to our collective chest.

Goddard brought in Sir Tim, very much to the rescue. “I cannot tell you what to cut, but I can tell you what not to cut – professional development," he said. "We went through nine years of cuts in Oxfordshire and, terrible as it was, we kept up our spending on staff development. And we look back on that time, strange as it seems, as a golden age of innovation.

“I am a friend to teachers, so I hate to say this, but you might have to have fewer teachers and larger class sizes. Whatever you do, do not cut back on professional development."

As ever, Sir Tim was there to provide an insight into how we can make schools better in spite of the politics: he made it worth staying for the graveyard shift.

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