“Brave” is the word I’ve most often heard used to describe our decision to participate in the BBC Two documentary series School. Our motivation was simple: to improve public awareness of the challenges facing the education system.
The reaction to the series has been enormous and varied. We’ve been inundated with emails, cards, biscuits and cakes from parents. More widely, we have received thousands of messages from around the country. Teachers and school leaders say the programmes have resonated strongly with their own experience. The series has reflected issues that are faced by primary as well as secondary schools, rural as well as urban schools, and maintained schools as well as academies.
There are two sides to every debate. For each viewer who sees cuts to pastoral care as a moral outrage, there is another who wants to see the return of traditional discipline. We must recognise that different views exist outside of the vigorous debate we have within the profession.
Is it our job to provide welfare support to young people, or should we have a purely academic role? Is the new curriculum broadening or narrowing horizons? How far should we adjust our expectations of students who struggle with aspects in which their peers thrive?
Some have criticised School as a negative portrayal of schools. The programmes don’t shy away from showing the challenges that of last year and the pressures we were under. Did the programmes lack balance by not featuring enough of the succeeding students? Perhaps, but these students are already well represented in the media. Less understood are the challenges faced by the most complex young people.
Will the series deter applicants to teaching? I hope not. Teaching isn’t easy, but it is immensely rewarding. The programmes show both sides of that equation.
Funding is a genuine concern. Our schools are all located in the lowest-funded authority in the country. Short-term, I hope that School helps to make the case for immediate relief in the areas of greatest pressure: special educational needs and disability (SEND), support services for vulnerable pupils, and capital investment in our building stock. Long-term, we have to make education a higher national priority, and that needs to be embraced by the public at large.
We’re very proud of what we achieved, but we will only sustain this by being open about the challenges. School is already fulfilling our intentions by prompting a debate about the education we want for the next generation.
William Roberts is chief executive of the Castle School Education Trust