'Perfect storm' of challenges could break secondary school system, union warns

29th April 2017 at 00:15
NAHT to consider call to 'campaign vigorously' against grammar school expansion

A "perfect storm" of real terms cuts, a teacher recruitment crisis and the proposed expansion of grammar schools could "break" the secondary system, a headteachers’ leader has warned.

The NAHT union will today debate a call to “campaign vigorously” against the government’s proposed expansion of academic selection, as well as a motion claiming real terms funding cuts would “threaten the education system and its children”.

Russell Hobby, the union’s general secretary, said: “The combination of challenges facing secondary schools and their students has never been greater. Many school leaders are concerned about maintaining high standards in the face of simultaneous upheaval on so many fronts. It’s a perfect storm.”

'A policy for the few'

He also highlighted the government’s plans for 90 per cent of students to study the English Baccalaureate, which he said was reducing the breadth of the curriculum in many schools, as well as uncertainty about the impact of Brexit on the future of EU nationals working in schools.

Today’s grammar school motion calls for the union to “campaign vigorously to reject the proposed expansion of selection at age 11 or older in the absence of any compelling evidence that it promotes social mobility”.

It instead says that greater investment in early years is “the best driver to combat the effects of disadvantage”.

Robert Campbell, executive principal of Impington Village College in Cambridge, who will propose the motion, said: “The government is fixated with delivering a policy for the few at the expense of the many. This can only add to the pressure for secondary schools and their students.”

Earlier this month, education secretary Justine Greening said the new grammar schools she is proposing "will support young people from every background, not the privileged few. Young people on free school meals – and those eligible for pupil premium. Young people from ordinary working families that are struggling to get by."

On recruitment, Mr Hobby said schools are now paying a premium to cover the high cost of living in desirable areas, or to attract preferred candidates to more challenging areas.

New grades add to the challenge

He added: “NAHT’s annual Breaking Point survey showed that 72 per cent of school budgets will be untenable in two years’ time. This is a result of the government’s choice to freeze spending and keep it at 2010 levels for each pupil.

“The 2010 cash isn’t going as far as it used to. You can’t expect it to. But the government is flatly refusing to admit the reality.”

Mr Hobby added that “widespread confusion” about the new 9-1 GCSE grades, which are being brought in for some subjects this summer, was adding to the challenges to the system.

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