February 29, 2024



Wouldn’t it be funny if headteachers marched on parliament.

Perhaps carrying Father Ted’s placards demanding, “Down with this sort of thing.”
In the UK I voted Remain but backed Brexit to win. In the USA I would have voted for just about anyone rather than Donald Trump but I took “new customer” odds of 16-1 on his victory. I was convinced that white working class people in Europe and America feel abandoned by politicians. The system has failed them, they’re not, “Just About Managing.” They are increasingly disenfranchised and angry.

The good news about Brexit is that politics is in such a mess that schools have been recently spared the constant meddlings of the latest career building Education Secretary. The bad news is that the government is patronising us with “Brexit means Brexit” doublespeak whilst our public services are crumbling.

Am I alone in finding it rather unnerving that Jeremy Hunt has said it is bad that A&E waiting times are lengthening? He is after all, Secretary of State for Health since 2012.

I suggest that headteachers are voting Trump-like and Brexit -like whilst maintaining our middle class educated status – and comfortable lifestyles . We have elected Geoff Barton as our general secretary, against our union leadership’s advice.

There is a recruitment crisis (There are more teachers than ever before – DfE) as pupil numbers soar: “The pupil population is currently expected to rise by 450,000 from 6.45 million in 2016 to 6.9 million in 2020” (Institute for Fiscal Studies 21-10-15)

Teachers take-home pay has been reduced year on year for the last 7 years (Schools are free to pay teachers more says the DfE.) With cuts in school budgets how can schools cover any pay rise?

4 out of 10 academies are in deficit and the rest are heading there (We have maintained real terms money to schools – DfE ) whilst grants have been cut and government- determined cost rises leave a school like mine with an extra £300,000 to find this year. And I can’t put prices up.

Are we really to be abused by government language? Guess the single one word they removed from the “National Fair Funding Formula.”

The curriculum is a Gove-inspired return to Victorian times. A doublespeak notion that kids learn more if the content is too difficult and telling 47% of 11 year olds they have failed is somehow a good thing.

But we all know all this: the many headteachers who left their jobs this year knew it. A colleague who has his stopwatch counting the seconds to retirement knows it. In this – the Armageddon Year of state education – a “good” North London school had three applicants for their vacant headship, and only two turned up on the day.

The ASCL – the secondary heads’ union of choice usually chooses its new General Secretary according to an etiquette ensuring unopposed candidates. ASCL has now had its leadership’s chosen candidate opposed for the first time. And beaten.

The new man is no raging leftie. He is a midlands comprehensive school headteacher, sometime “advisor” to the government and a writer on literacy.

I hope it was Max Weber who wrote that the central task of a bureaucracy is to protect itself.

I think my union’s bureaucracy has suffered from the broadening of its membership. Including Independent schools, free schools, multi academy trusts and business managers in an already conservative school leaders’ association has led to a frustrating and destructive inertia. The ASCL “call to action” email this week suggested we write to MPs about the dire state of school finances.

As if our MPs care.

Personally. I think they have been bored by my airing concerns about an inappropriate school curriculum, politely waiting for me to shut up.

Two years ago 31 Hertfordshire heads lobbied our 5 Tory MPs in the House of Commons. We gave them our financial facts and they said “Secretary of State Morgan says you have plenty of money.”

This was before Trump’s “alternative facts.”

Everyone agrees that our costs have risen by around 7.5%. That’s close to £10 million across those 31 schools.

DfE advice seems to be that we can save that by bulk buying toilet paper. Not by sacking teachers, employing unqualified (cheap) staff, cutting subjects like music, drama and geology, closing school libraries and ending support for children with special needs. The Institute for Fiscal Studies: “ … we forecast that school spending per pupil is likely to fall by around 8% in real terms.” (IFS October 2015)

In West Sussex, Oxfordshire, North Somerset and no doubt an increasing number of areas around England, headteacher groups are vocally opposing government cuts to education, the decimation of SEN provision and increasing grammar school selection.

We were assured that Mrs May’s sop to UKIP voters would address the tiny numbers of “disadvantaged” children in existing grammar schools and was about offering all parents a choice of good schools.

In a search for elegant language to describe how we are once again being disrespected and misled I came up with this:

Lies are Lies.

It was revealed on Wednesday that ministers had invited grammar school leaders to apply for £150m for new selective school places. Existing grammar schools left their meeting with education ministers Justine Greening and Nick Gibb smugly briefing that new grammars will not need to worry about kids on free school meals and will be able to select the top 10%.

Out of touch, conceited politicians in awe of outdated and failed old tory ideas divert money from children’s needs. Frightened civil servants in the DfE collude to lead us back to the 1950s.

The heads in West Sussex have warned that schools will have to cut hours, increase class sizes or stop teaching some subjects.

They have told MPs that “throughout our campaign school leaders have sought to be ‘relentlessly reasonable’; now we are simply furious”.

I see the vote for a new General Secretary of the ASCL as a Network (the film featuring Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch ) parallel. Open your windows and shout into the night – “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.” By the way, watch Finch’s stunning 101 second performance on Youtube.

Good luck, Geoff Barton. I hope you can lead us into more meaningful opposition to the deliberate destruction of our children’s education. I hope the ASCL council realise why we voted.

I’ve got my marching boots ready.

Dennis O’Sullivan

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