Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

I'm Ratty about the State of Our School System

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

I'm Ratty about the State of Our School System

Article excerpt

While ministers obsess over the structure of the education system, the structures they should care about - staffing, buildings and support for our most vulnerable children - are falling down

"There was once a rat on the playing field for two days. Now there are no dead animals."

This statement from a pupil, about how dead rodents were no longer left lying around to decay, said more about the transformation of a school than hours of facts and figures from the senior leadership team would have revealed.

It revealed there were now people in charge who cared, about the pupils and about the environment in which they spend some 900 hours a year.

But for the vast majority of school leaders, this is becoming more and more difficult for them to demonstrate.

It's not just the cuts to capital budgets resulting in crumbling buildings and leaks from the ceilings. It's not just the cost-saving slashing of support services - mental health counselling, speech therapy, teaching assistants. It's not just the inability to replace staff who are leaving because the school simply can't afford to recruit.

It's higher national insurance and pension contributions, the apprenticeship levy, the phasing out of the Education Services Grant.

And the news gets bleaker still. A report from the National Audit Office says that schools will be forced to find £3 billion-worth of savings by 2019-20 and they will see an 8 per cent cut to real-terms funding between 2014-15 and 2019-20.

Heads and schools, it says, have "not seen this level of reduction in spending power since the mid-1990s" (see bit.ly/FundingRisk).

"Schools' budgets are being pushed beyond breaking point," says Russell Hobby, head of the NAHT headteachers' union. "It is clear that schools cannot make these savings without reducing their biggest cost, which is staffing. To do this puts the quality of education at risk. …

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