The bleakest of mid-winters for heads

10th December 2010 at 00:00

I cannot remember when there was a more difficult time to be a headteacher. We are told that frontline services in schools will not be affected by the cuts, yet we already know that this is not true and that we will have a negative budget to manage.

Our school is already in the process of a staffing restructure. It is very painful for all concerned and I don't envy schools who have yet to begin the process. The pressure to improve results continuously is relentless. The need to safeguard children is imperative. The need to keep our buildings in good repair and to provide a safe and comfortable learning environment is becoming almost impossible. The future looks bleak.

My worry is that we will not have the resources to intervene early with pupils most at risk and problems will become crises. This will negate all the good work we have done in the past in joining up services. For I have benefited in my 14 years as a head from the Labour government's heavy investment in education.

Don't get me wrong, I did not agree with all of its policies, but I did agree with the overarching vision. The Every Child Matters agenda set about tackling some issues that have dogged us for years. It recognised that our pupils must be well taught and well cared for. The coalition Government does not appear to have an aim other than dismantling what exists.

It is difficult to picture what the education landscape will look like in five years' time. While our base budgets may be static, we do not know what will happen to the many grants that top up our funds and provide additional services for our needy young people. Local authorities are being decimated and there seems to be no understanding of the knockon effects this will have in schools like ours.

Having gone through an NTI (notice to improve) and come out the other side, I am acutely aware of how much an excellent local authority matters. How can they hold on to enough good staff to provide support when schools really need it?

Mr Gove's answer to this is that schools judged to be outstanding are supposed to adopt us "poor relations" and show us the way forward. But he fails to understand that many "outstanding" schools have no desire to do anything to help their neighbours who may be struggling. They may make the right noises, but when the chips are down they are not willing to use their valuable resources to support another school. Partnership and collaboration develop from a mutual need and cannot be forced on to schools.

We shall also have to cope with the increase in poverty threatened by the Coalition's policies. Poverty has been the elephant in the room for far too long and we need to face the fact that it gets in the way of academic success and often social and emotional stability.

Pupils living in extreme poverty need a huge amount of additional support. The pupil premium (which we know very little about) will not fill the gap, but rather looks as if it will redistribute the money. It seems inevitable that schools like ours will lose out.

Pupils and schools will suffer from any policy that damages parents and communities. Cuts in unemployment benefits and disability allowances, rising rents on social housing and other attempts to put the poor in "their place" will rebound, as the stress on families is passed on to the children. I expect the numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals to rise, along with the numbers taking up the meal. It is likely that there will be cuts in social care budgets, so more vulnerable families will be left to fend for themselves.

Cuts in police funding will put back the partnership work that has been so successful over the past 10 years. Anti-social behaviour and community cohesion will be put on the back burner and the quality of family life and safety in the community will be at risk.

I don't know what will happen to the Safer School Partnerships, but this is unlikely to survive in the present climate. Yet it needs to be recognised that this has been one of the most successful initiatives of the past decade in bringing schools, police and local communities together in the common cause of making us all safer.

We have some very difficult times ahead of us and, for the first time ever, I would warn those thinking of applying for headship to think very carefully before putting in an application.

Kenny Frederick is headteacher of George Green's secondary school in east London.

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