The nights have drawn in and the long, unrelenting autumn term has finally been put to bed. Yes, it’s that time of year again. No, not Christmas. It’s time to reveal the second-ever Tes person of the year.
Education is full of bright, committed, energetic people doing everything they can to make a difference – absolutely packed full of them. There isn’t space here to do justice to the crucial work of the hundreds of thousands of teachers who improve pupils’ lives, day in, day out.
But what we can do is bring you 10 people or groups of people whose efforts have gone beyond what might be expected of their normal working lives, who have made a difference to many, many other teachers and learners in our schools and colleges.
Deciding on the Tes person of the year, it should be said, is an entirely undemocratic and unscientific process. The judging panel is made up of the editors and section heads of Tes magazine, with the deciding vote, if needed, going to the editor, Ann Mroz. Nevertheless, this process has, we feel, produced an admirable list of people who have made 2018 – in many ways a time of adversity – a better year for education. Here’s why.
Tes person of the year: Jules White
Headteacher and funding campaigner
This September, something extraordinary happened: 2,000 headteachers marched on Downing Street. These were not angry, politicised activists, but ordinary, sensible headteachers. And they weren’t grumbling about a minister’s conference speech or issuing measured press releases. They were marching, with placards, on the government as part of a grassroots revolt that one national newspaper even likened to the Arab Spring.
It wasn’t unions that organised this uprising. It all came down to Jules White – a self-professed “regular bloke” leading a successful secondary who, one day, decided that he’d had enough of the Department for Education’s “clueless” response to schools’ growing funding crisis.
White, and the heads he inspired to join him on that early autumn day, were criticised for taking time off school and mocked for being too polite.
But they achieved what they set out to do: gaining huge national media coverage about their schools’ financial plight. It is a feat that White has been managing all year. The West Sussex head has in 2018 become the national media’s go-to spokesperson for cash-strapped schools, quoted on everything from the Budget to funding for grammar schools and the DfE’s misleading use of stats.
White has cut through where union leaders can’t. He doesn’t have to take into account the politics of his organisation or carefully consider the pro and cons of speaking out versus insider lobbying. The head of Tanbridge House school in Horsham simply says exactly what he thinks about the reality of the funding problems, of which he has valuable first-hand knowledge. And that plain speaking has had a huge effect.
The WorthLess? national school-funding campaign, which White launched, can justifiably take some credit for pushing the government into a decision, announced after last year’s general election, to boost school budgets by more than £1 billion. This year he has built on that and regularly rallies thousands of other heads across 40 local authorities. He can also, in the ping of an email, reach 6 million families via a national network of WorthLess? members.
White has never joined a political party. Nor has the former secondary modern boy ever taken part in a sit-in or any sort of industrial action. As a student at the University of Essex, a well-known radicalist hotbed, he spurned activism in favour of “playing football, playing cricket and going out”. But when his school was “cut to the bone” and left with “absolutely no money”, while ministers refused to admit there was a problem, White felt compelled act. “I can’t stand bullshit,” he has told Tes.
The school leader has continued in that vein ever since, despite being subjected to “intimidating” messages and behaviour from officials and senior politicians. Jules White is fighting a battle for no personal gain and making a real difference. That is why he is Tes person of the year.
Tes' people of the year 2018
- Jules White - headteacher and school funding campaigner
- Heather Wright - primary teacher and founder, Reading Rocks