A New Sense of Optimism

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How will Labour’s election impact our schools?

With Labour’s election, what renewed hope is there for all schools to receive the support and funding they desperately need…

The state of the nation

The education landscape has dramatically changed over the past 14 years, with unprecedented funding cuts from the Conservative government, resulting in fewer in-school support services over time. As a result, more pupils in the system have been left without the specialist teachers they need, local councils lack the funds to provide mental health services, and parents have been removing their children from some state schools, seeking independent support.

The result? Over the last decade, schools have seen the resources they need diminish to meet minimum provisions. For example, positive capital grants, teaching assistants, community support police officers, school nurses, and a drastic decline in teacher recruitment, to name a few.

Teaching in 1997 vs 2024

I remember when I was a middle leader in state schools during the last Labour government.

In one school, I was working in a new-build as a design and technology head of department. I must have had £¼M to spend on classroom design and an annual capitation budget of £10p.a. There were opportunities for multiple staffing appointments. For example, art teacher job applications exceeded 80-100! There wasn’t an endless surplus of cash, I remember always having with the HT for more cash, but it was easier to get things done. Results were good, and staff salaries were proportionate. You could pay bills and save!

Over the last few years as a senior leader, under Labour and mostly Conservative, budgets proportionate to staff/pupils reduced every year. For example, in 2014, our GAG was £8M, but it was reduced by £1M three years later; individual budgets had to be reduced. E.g. CPD budget for the entire school was £100k, but three years later it dropped to £30k, which was still an enormous luxury, but shared between ~250 staff, it doesn’t go very far.

During this period, recruitment became tougher and tougher. Art teacher applications dropped from ~100 to just 3-5 worthy for interview! It was difficult to source quality staff, and teaching was becoming an increasingly undesirable career. In the press, we were often slandered for being lazy. Ofsted had changed too.

In the early 2000s, inspectors worked with you in your department for a whole week! Conversations were built upon co-constructed ideas and plans as the inspector sought to understand what was happening, providing nuggets of advice each day. It was an enjoyable process!! Today, the unannounced team turned up and sought to evaluate far too much in a short time. This perpetuates a high-stakes feel to the inspection and weakens the evaluation process.

Neither system was/is perfect. There was more opportunity to get things done, and the government made it much easier for teachers to complete their work. At times, accountability hindered innovation, but at least there was some cash to help headteachers solve complex problems.

A new optimism

With Labour now elected, is there any fresh optimism that schools will receive the necessary support and funding? Plenty of teachers and school leaders across the system will remain tentative.

Labour’s policy on ending private schools’ VAT exemption and business rate relief is in their manifesto: “The party said it would use the money raised to recruit extra teachers for state schools and fund more childcare” (BBC).

It’s too early to know, but incoming Secretary of State for Education Bridget Phillipson has said: “We will reset the relationship between government and schools.” What this means in practice will be interesting to observe. For too long, our state school system has “too many people interested in their own gain, rather than in the interests of all young people” (Source).

Resetting school priorities

Adequate funding is crucial for creating and sustaining the minimum service level, but helping schools deliver an education rather than be the local community’s support line (e.g., food banks) has distracted many of our schools.

Increased funding can help address critical areas such as pupil mental health, infrastructure, and teacher salaries. Proper support allows headteachers to make impactful decisions, retain quality teachers, and ultimately improve the educational experience for students. Improved funding directly to local authorities will allow services to be restored, taking away some of the pressures schools have become accustomed to providing.

With increased funding, schools can benefit from improved mental health services and referral processes, working collaboratively and effectively with local authorities. Over the last decade, it has been interesting to observe how this is achieved in the era of academisation and limited budgets, with some local authorities prioritising services depending on the school’s status.

A better education system for all can be achieved by prioritising school capital grants, raising teacher salaries, and investing in comprehensive support services. Teachers can leverage this support to create a stable and supportive environment, allowing students to thrive academically and personally.

Of course, there is much more to do than this blog alludes to, but a renewed focus on education at a national level will be welcomed by all.

Some reflection questions:

  • How would increased funding for mental health services benefit all students?
  • In what ways could improved referral services streamline support for pupils?
  • How might higher teacher salaries impact recruitment and retention in your school?
  • What infrastructure improvements would make the most significant difference in your teaching environment?
  • How can better collaboration with local authorities enhance pupil support?
  • What specific support services would you prioritise with increased funding?
  • How could enhanced mental health services improve overall school performance?
  • What strategies can headteachers use to effectively allocate new funds?
  • How can teachers advocate for the necessary changes in their schools?
  • What immediate steps can be taken to prepare for increased funding and support?

Whether Labour or Conservatives are in a position of power, this overarching question always comes back to me: Are you interested in ALL children succeeding, or just some?

Either way, our society will not reap the benefits of an underfunded system. My hope is that the new government learn from the past, and unleash the education system to reach its true potential.

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