Some analysts believe that, in real terms, schools are facing budget cuts of up to 12% in the coming years.
On the other hand, the Government continues to argue that in fact budgets are being sustained in education.
We might hold differing views on austerity, but at the coal face, so to speak, it seems real enough that much of the additional funding in the late noughties and into the early years of the current decade is being eroded or has, in some cases, already been wiped out.
In the light of this, how might schools cope with such a budget? And, even more importantly, are we reaching the stages where schools may be forced to close their doors and send pupils home, with all the consequential issues this brings? Issues not only to do with the quality of education our children received and the long term economic and social implication of standards in this falling, but also for parents and carers who might have to change their own working arrangements to provide care for their children.
Hiring Policies for teachers
The most significant costs to most schools lies in their staffing. As staff retire or leave for other careers, something that is happening at an increasing rate, schools may be forced to hire more and more inexperienced and therefore cheaper teachers.
Whilst it is excellent news for schools to have new ideas and new blood in their staff room, experienced teachers provide an informal mentoring service to new comers to the profession, and this will be lost if they increasingly disappear from staff lists. Many experienced teachers also have gained the wisdom and skills to deal with challenging pupils and parents. There is a significant risk that if the balance in the staff room is lost, schools will become more and more feral with strategies developing that allow teachers to cope with their pupils, rather than expand their horizons.
Impact on Support Staff
Support staff are likely to become the first victims of the spending squeeze. However, without classroom support, or technical support, children lose out. More pressure is placed on the teaching staff with the inevitable consequences of increased stress leading to more absence and thus, higher costs for schools as they are forced to rely on supply teachers.
We are already in a position where class sizes are increasing, and the range of learning on offer is being narrowed. Inevitably, teachers are not going to be replaced; their absence accounted for by larger classes and fewer subjects on offer.
GCSE and A Level Teaching
Examination classes benefit from smaller groups, but this is high cost and will again be something that goes quickly. We are often told of the success of large class teaching in some other parts of the world, but the culture within many such environments is different. In addition, problems around excessive stress placed on pupils in some of these educational systems is often overlooked.
Schools are seeking to save money on resources, with not only knew schemes of work being overlooked, but also photocopying budgets being restrained.
Trips and Extra Curricular Opportunities
Another saving possibility lies in cutting these very important aspects of education. As trips and clubs disappear, the benefits to self esteem (and therefore behaviour and learning ability) are reduced, to the detriment of opportunities to our students.
Closing the school gates – strike action
With the very small pay rise (with inflation, an effective pay cut), more and more difficult working conditions as a result of budget cuts and little evidence of an upturn on the horizon, there has to be the possibility that we will once again see strike action from teachers in the not too distant future.
Whether this highlights problems to the public, or just gives the media and Government an opportunity to knock teachers depends on your viewpoint.
Closing the School Gates – an innovative solution
One primary school has already appeared in the press following announcing that it will now run a 4.5 day week for pupils.
The school has, from a professional perspective, been proactive and innovative. Recognising Friday afternoon as not the most productive of periods educationally, it plans to close at this time, with all teacher planning and preparation occurring during the afternoon. Such a move means that there are more teachers about on Monday to Friday lunchtime to offer best education to the school’s children.
Inevitably, there has been both an informed and uninformed backlash. The latter links fines for parents who take their children out of school (decisions not made by classroom teachers) to teachers working on non contact activities. However, more reasonably, there is an impact on parents who will struggle to care for their children during these times.
There is also the longer term potential for schools to save by reducing their overall staffing, since there will be no need to staff classes where the teacher is on their PPA session (this, of course, happening now when there are no children about). Savings might also be made by reducing the hours for support staff. Another benefit will be that whole departments and year groups will be able to plan together, since all will be on their non contact time simultaneously.
The move is interesting, and creative, although far from ideal. Were it to be widened to significantly more schools, then the Government would have a challenging dilemma on its hands. Legitimise its own budget cuts, or respond to the mass interpretation that teachers are just working less hours?
Sadly, I think that most teachers would expect that the Government would use its substantial spinning machine to ensure that such a development as moving to a 4.5 day week puts down teachers whilst removing attention from its own negative actions.