'In a time of austerity, schools should cut bloated senior leadership teams, not arts provision'

Schools used to manage fine with a single head and one or two deputies. Now they have extended senior leadership teams that manage sprawling, unnecessary initiatives, write two educationalists and researchers

John Blake & Mark Lehain

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Last Monday, we saw the fruits of Justine Greening’s scrabbling down the back of the metaphorical DfE sofa, with the announcement of additional cash for the schools budget in 2018-19 and 2019-20. It is intended to ensure real-terms growth in per-pupil funding for these years, and smooth the transition into a National Funding Formula.

However, let’s not kid ourselves: money is going to remain tight in the public sector, and it is probably best to think of this extra cash as just giving schools a bit more breathing space to adjust to the new realities. For nearly 20 years, we enjoyed real-terms growth in funding averaging 5 per cent a year, and the wage growth that went with it; those days are not coming back any time soon.

The challenge now is how to make sure every member of every school makes every pound go as far as possible. Schools need to ensure that money is efficiently spent giving every child access to the broad, balanced and rigorous curriculum they are entitled to. 

With 25 years of school experience between us, in the classroom and as senior leaders, we know that there have already been lots of sensible and innovative ways that schools have saved money, refocusing spending to make sure children are still getting their due in the classroom.

But we’ve all heard stories of schools cutting provision, especially arts provision, long before other measures seem to have been considered.

More people working in our schools does not mean they have got better, and the fact that someone works hard does not mean that work is the most effective use of their time.

Teaching assistant numbers are often mentioned, as concerns grow about their effective deployment. But perhaps more importantly, schools that once got by on a single head and one or two deputies now have extended senior leadership teams managing sprawling initiatives—indeed, some senior leaders may be creating more work for themselves and for others in an unfortunate cycle.

The most egregious example of this is “Mocksteads”, where enormous cost and effort is put into seeking unreliable judgements from unnecessary external review.

Policy Exchange’s education work is founded on a belief in the power of the schools-led system and capacity of those within it to effect improvement. The issues we have highlighted above are ones many teachers would raise, and we know there are many more sensible, proportionate ideas for saving money that teachers will have, so today we are asking for your insights as to the kind of things that schools should – or shouldn’t – do to safeguard their curriculum and other key aspects of provision.

What do you think should be protected, and what should schools stop doing to allow this to happen?

Please let us know by emailing your suggestions to schools@policyexchange.org.uk – they will all be read, and treated confidentially.

To ensure that we can provide children with the education they deserve has never just been about how much money we have but about what we do with it. Being clearer about what our priorities are, and better recognising the opportunity cost of every pound we spend, is absolutely vital if we are to make the most of both what we have now and in the future.

John Blake is head of education and social reform for Policy Exchange. Mark Lehain is outgoing principal of Bedford Free School and a senior policy fellow in education at Policy Exchange.

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John Blake & Mark Lehain

John Blake is head of education and social reform for Policy Exchange. Mark Lehain is outgoing principal of Bedford Free School and a senior policy fellow in education at Policy Exchange.

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