Even the ostriches in Whitehall can’t keep ignoring this crisis

7th December 2018 at 00:00

Crisis, catastrophe, calamity, cataclysm. Whatever you call it, there’s an important group of people for whom the concept of “crisis” appears to have no meaning.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, leaders at the Department for Education can’t or won’t see that there is a funding crisis engulfing our schools (“‘Crisis? What crisis’ says the new schools commissioner”, Tes, 30 November).

In their view, there’s only room for efficiencies and a regular sound-bite opportunity to reassure the public that schools have never had it so good.

In one way, they’re right. Superb, dedicated teachers and support staff are keeping the ship afloat. The water is lapping around our necks but we haven’t sunk yet. Standards are decent, schools are covering the chasms left in local authority and social care provision, and there aren’t too many being forced to run a four-day week.

If you set your sights low enough, everything’s just fine.

An alternative view, however, is the one provided by every reasonable professional who actually works day to day in our schools. There isn’t a serving headteacher who won’t confirm that school budgets are cut to the bone, that there aren’t enough teachers to go round and that demand for special educational needs and disability (SEND) or mental health support is far outstripping capacity. I could go on.

Fortunately, public services such as schools don’t face the horror of having a patient die while waiting in a hospital corridor – that’s a truly shocking crisis. But, bit by bit and drip by drip, our school system is lurching towards a critical condition.

Heads, teachers and support staff are stretched way beyond what is reasonable. We’re running out of hope and optimism, and we simply don’t trust what our political masters are saying.

If there is a certain crisis, it’s related to the ostrich-like approach of those who lead us. Many seem to be so far removed from school life that they can’t see what every reasonable professional is telling them.

Forget the “usual suspects”. We’ve got moderate headteachers marching, parent action groups shouting “SOS!” and conservative governors crying “help!”.

Crisis, what crisis?

When you face a calamity, the first thing you have to do is to acknowledge it. Only then can the problem be fully remedied.

Schools have played their part in austerity. Hardworking and dedicated ministers like Damian Hinds and Nick Gibb have had a tough hand to play, too. But the denials have to stop. It begins with removing your head from the sand.

Jules White is the coordinator of the Worth Less? fair funding campaign and headteacher of Tanbridge House School in West Sussex


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