'Despite best efforts, my school is not full and I'm worried sick about how it will survive'

3rd December 2017 at 18:03
Parents choosing not to send their children to this headteacher's school, despite a glowing inspection report, has led to a lack of funding and staff cuts. Here, she worries about what will come next

I loved my job as a deputy head; I did it for 12 years and had no plans to leave. I got to organise talent shows and go on exciting trips. But, like a comfortable pair of old slippers, I was starting to feel worn and a little threadbare.

“Come and be the headteacher at my school,” one of the members of our deputy head beer group said to me one evening. “It’ll be great,” she continued, “we’ve got the same ethos and outlook and the kids are fantastic.” So, I applied and got the job.

Fast forward nine months and I found myself sitting and weeping in the new office I had filled with matching coloured files and motivational posters. It was six weeks into my new role. What on earth had I done? It had become glaringly apparent that leading this new school was a bit like peeling an onion; every layer I removed was causing me to weep a little harder. “Dear God, please don’t let Ofsted come in now, it’d be curtains for sure,” I prayed, despite being completely lapsed.

Fortunately for me, having a grandfather who was a vicar clearly worked in my favour. The dreaded call was postponed until one day last year, just at the moment I was standing and telling a group of prospective parents how wonderful our much-improved school was.

'Worried sick'

Ofsted came and went and everything was fine. I thought that the hardest part was over with. How wrong I was.

Despite our very best efforts and unlike everywhere else I read about in the country where schools are bulging at the seams, my school is still not full.

It turns out that even though we have a glowing report, decent results and school grounds to die for, the chattering classes just don’t want to take the risk of sending their children to a school where they might have to socialise with children who are not called Barnaby or Iris and who don’t ski in the winter and spend their summers glamping in France. Fewer derrieres on chairs means less cash and less cash means restructuring and cuts.

And so here we are, one year on from Ofsted and three years since I took the role and I’m worried sick about how my school is going to survive. We’ve lost teaching assistants, we’ve asked parents for donations, staff are even running a sponsored half marathon to try to raise some money.

Even then, I’m not sure it will be enough. Standards will start to slip. My wonderful staff, who have worked their socks off to get us to where we are now, will be even more stressed and ill and every child is going to feel the effects.

On the worst days, I wonder about a career change – long-distance lorry driving perhaps. But then again, I did want a challenge…

The writer is headteacher of a primary school in the South of England.

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