Debating the new school year with headteacher colleagues is always fun (usually, because we are all relaxed and have a drink in our hand.) Although most of us approach the new year with optimism, there do appear to be a few storms brewing over the horizon…
We all agreed that the first chance of rain is, of course, the genuine lack of money in the system. Years of cutbacks and talk of equity in funding arrangements have now had a truly negative impact. The resources simply aren’t there and manpower has been cut to the point that maintaining standards is almost impossible, let alone improvement. Stories of essential maintenance jobs going uncompleted go hand-in-hand with the cutbacks on the resources which all teachers rely on. And who suffers for it? The most vulnerable, in-need pupils.
Rising pupil numbers
Interestingly, the next major discussion point was the uncertainty caused by rising pupil rolls. It would appear that pupil numbers are rising in so many areas, but the resources and finances to support such expansion lags far behind. Temporary classrooms are popping up everywhere, teachers need to recruited out of thin air, and the finance to be able to do all of this is promised but often does not arrive.
Special needs provision
Special needs provision was another concern. Pupils with SEND have very complex needs, and no matter how good schools are, the systems simply don’t meet them. Seeking external support is a long and difficult job which often results in disappointment. There is no doubt that the years of cutbacks have had their impact here, and guess who suffers again? Yes, the most vulnerable.
Behaviour of both parents and pupils was also discussed. For whatever reason, the respect teachers have is at an all-time low, and this is being exploited negatively by both pupils and parents alike.
The message on behaviour links, of course, with social media. It would appear that every school is suffering from the faceless individuals who undermine the excellent work going on daily in our schools. Abuse from parents on social media can be horrific for teachers to deal with, and then on top of that, schools deal with the consequences of pupils abusing each other on social media after school.
Mental health issues
Mental health issues are a major consideration for all heads: both pupils and teachers are suffering. A study by the Children’s Society last week revealed that one in four young women and one in 10 young men aged 14 have self-harmed in the past year. And research by the BBC revealed that 70 per cent of teachers had taken time off work for a physical or mental health complaint they attributed directly to the stress of their job during the previous 12 months. The statistics are shocking and yet support remains stark. Schools are expected to "just get on with it".
Recruitment and retention
And lastly, the conversation came full circle to the recruitment – or, more importantly, retainment – of quality staff. In far too many appraisals at the end of the year staff said they couldn't cope for much longer. With incessant workload, lack of respect and poor pay and work-life balance, many are leaving the classroom for good.
And there we have it, a quiet drink with friends discussing the ills of a profession we love. Is there any hope? The government is too preoccupied with Brexit to recognise the fundamental problems in education.
I guess all that any of us can do is to try and dance in through the rain, and wait for the storm to clear.
Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were 'outstanding' across all categories
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