Let's play pass the sick bucket as we await review

24th September 2010 at 01:00

I tried not to take it personally when one of my lovely new Year 7 pupils vomited during my first assembly this year. She was nervous and anxious about her first day at secondary school and it was probably not unexpected that she brought up her breakfast as I was sharing my top tips on how to succeed at secondary school. I suppose I should be thankful that the same thing did not happen on my first meeting of the term with staff.

I was certainly near the vomiting stage as I waited for the GCSE results again this year. I wonder how many headteachers and senior teams are able to relax in those last two weeks of August when results are published?

We were all on tenterhooks and I was under instruction to share the information as soon as I had it from my examination secretary. In the end we could not keep away and ended up peering over the shoulder of our colleague as she downloaded the results for each student. This was followed by lots of calculations to work out the school results. Thankfully, we got the good results we expected - and needed - and were able to celebrate and enjoy the last week of the holidays. However, I am sure that there will be heads reading this column who have had disappointing results - and I certainly know how that feels.

Those results have become the most important part of our lives. Everything rests on them and nobody is interested in excuses such as a less able cohort, a shortage of specialist teachers or anything else. Our reputations as heads and the reputations of our schools are firmly fixed on our results and we know that Ofsted will be looking to these before they decide who needs visiting.

I may be unusual, but I always look forward to the new school year. While I really enjoy my holidays, I am always ready to put down my collection of trashy books and get back to the cut and thrust of a busy school, but this year there are many anxieties that were not there this time last year. This means that I, like many colleagues, am approaching the new term with some trepidation.

The impending white paper and the spending review due at the end of October are likely to have many implications for schools. Most heads can probably be stereotyped as good planners: we like to be prepared and like to plan ahead so that we can make sure quality provision is in place. The problem is we don't know what we are planning for.

Of course we know the spending review will be bad - but we don't know how bad. We have been told that there will be no cuts on baseline school budgets, but we don't know what will happen to all the other funding streams that come into schools, such as standards funds, which make up a big part of our funding. We are unclear about what the pupil premium will look like and what it will mean for each school. If we are going to have to slash our spending then we need time to plan the way to do this while preserving the quality of education for our pupils.

I am currently in the middle of a staff restructuring exercise and have been working on this for many months and we are only halfway through the process now. It is difficult and time consuming and can't be hurried. It is also demoralising and affects everyone in the school even if they are not the ones who are likely to lose their jobs. The work is still going to be there and somebody will have to do it, meaning workloads will go up. How can we continue to raise standards as we have been doing over the last 13 years of New Labour with far fewer resources? We will be expected to do more with less in the next four years. This fear of the unknown is debilitating.

I also have concerns about what will happen to the curriculum and whether we will be expected to drop certain "soft" but successful subjects and replace them with classics and Latin. Sadly, our new Government is not big on consultation and gathering views of the professionals, tending tends to make decisions on the hoof - leaving schools to get on with things.

Despite the difficulties, I am optimistic about the new year. The results at our school have greatly improved, all of my staff have turned up and we are one of the lucky few schools still in the Building Schools for the Future programme. The biggest worry is we still have our staff restructuring exercise to complete, and this continues to cause anxiety at all levels, not least with me.

Where did I put that sick bucket?

Kenny Frederick is headteacher of George Green's School in Tower Hamlets, London.

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