School budgets in crisis
As we approach the end of the term and schools are busy working on productions, nativities and Christmas parties, it’s easy to be swept along with the festivities and forget about the real crisis in schools.
Earlier this month, 5000 heads endorsed a letter sent to the chancellor to demand more money for schools due to the cuts to resources and increasing class sizes. The education industry is in trouble, there is no denying that, and with the lack of mention of education funding from the government’s recent autumn budget announcement, it looks unlikely that this bleak landscape in schools will be changing.
Lack of resources in schools
As a mother of two girls in primary school, I want them to have an enjoyable and fun quality education in a primary school that is well staffed and well resourced. I don’t want my daughter to have to wait for the following week when its ‘her turn’ to get on a computer or have to share a computer because 3 of them in the IT area were broke and haven’t been fixed for months. I don’t want her to be told she can have one pen and has to make it last all year. How sad that teachers are now on glue and scissor patrol – rationing amounts that can be used.
I want my children to have access at school to all the things they can have access to at home (and more). Is that really too much to ask for?
Two-year olds today are now technologically-wise. Many pupils enter early years with the ability to find music, games and photographs on an iPhone, at a swipe of their fingers. These technological skills are often not built on when they get to primary school, because the IT and technology available in most schools does not allow them to make use of these skills. So the big question must be: Is our education system in danger of failing our children because it cannot afford financially to keep up with the technological advances that are taking place?
Do we see any hope for our schools?
Where will this end? How will this be solved? Having spoken to many teachers and heads, everyone working in schools says the same, the industry is struggling. I’m worried education is in danger of becoming just like the medical profession. Where people see these professionals rallying, striking and shouting about these issues, but nothing changes – and eventually it just becomes white noise. Are people really listening?
It seems obvious to me that our teaching professionals aren’t being treated like professionals. How can the government expect to continue to attract new people to the profession or retain existing teachers, when the pay and working conditions in schools aren’t attractive?
Who wants to enter a career that has a starting salary £5k lower than the average graduate, a career where you’re expected to work in excess of 60 hours a week and get little respect? You are challenged by parents, scrutinised by your colleagues and supervisors and why? Because those colleagues and supervisors are scrutinised and put under so much pressure also. Who wants to work evenings, weekends and annual leave? It’s not right that our teachers and heads feel guilty that they’re spending Saturdays and Sundays with family and friends instead of working. I know a teacher who worked and lived in the same village and often tried to avoid going out locally on a Sunday as they didn’t want to be seen enjoying Sunday lunch with a glass of wine in case a parent saw them!
Supporting our teachers and heads
Don’t get me wrong, there are many jobs and professions where observation and scrutiny is involved but so is support. In the business industry, managers are set targets, met with to discuss such targets and achievements and if they are struggling, they are supported. In business, work life balance is constantly recommended, stress related illnesses are feared by employers and businesses are under pressure to be flexible, innovative and family friendly. Offering ergonomically designed desks, family days and options of part time and reduced working hours. Some of the larger corporate companies have cafés and gyms in the building where you can work off stress, or get away from your desk and go for a coffee.
Heads have little or no support. Stress-related absence is normal in schools these days and work life balance is a nonsense. Most support has been removed and these heads are left out on a limb having to pay for professional support and training from companies like mine.
I’m not complaining, if there wasn’t a need for support in schools, CPD, training and consultancy, I wouldn’t have a job and we wouldn’t have a business, however, is this right?
When I started 17 years ago, Focus Education operated as an additional complimentary support to the local authority offering training that perhaps the LA weren’t as strong in. It was a fair and open market and schools had a choice whether to buy in to local authority services or whether to use private industry. The tables eventually turned and schools started to have a choice of more and more private providers to use, as local authority support dwindled due to lack of money. Nowadays, heads and schools don’t have a choice – they just don’t use anyone for support or have to go with the cheapest option, which isn’t always the best.
There is the option of teaching schools, but we are yet to see whether these have actually had an impact. Research carried out by the NCTL in 2016 said that ‘whilst there is compelling evidence of the strides that teaching schools and their alliances have made in developing the necessary relationships, social and intellectual capital and collaborative activities to improve the professional practice of teachers and schools leaders within and beyond TSA partnerships, as yet, the quantitative evidence of the success of TSAs in driving improvement in terms of raising pupils’ academic outcomes in individual schools across the alliance partnership remains limited.’
At Focus, we are working hard to offer schools options to enable them to continue to use Focus. We love what we do and schools love using us. We’ve never been the cheapest option, but schools feel they get what they pay for.
“This School and many of us as individuals have benefitted enormously from your work and the work of Focus Education. We have a lot to thank you and your colleagues, including your admin team, for. For me Focus provides excellent support for long term, strategic planning and school improvement. There are many consultancy and training organisations that offer or claim to offer, quick fixes. All my experience tells me there is no such thing in education!”
Headteacher, Manchester Primary School
Beating the budget cuts in schools
How can we help schools with reduced budgets?
As members of BESA, we’ve signed up to their Resource Our Schools petition and I would strongly urge anyone in the industry to do the same.
Two years ago we launched Focus Rewards, which offers monthly offers and partner discounts.
We also offer Sales, Black Friday events, regular discounts and promotions to help schools with reduced budgets. We are constantly suggesting ways we can help schools save money, including sharing costs between schools when booking in-service or pairing up with local or neighbouring schools.
A year ago we introduced Focus Hubs. We now have 9 Focus Hub schools and this number is growing, these are used as cheaper alternative venues for running Focus courses and has meant we can slash our prices by 18%. By becoming a Hub the schools are entitled to free places on these courses which saves them money too. We’ve also started running VIP events where we run short half day courses for just £25 around a specific area – almost an introducer course.
Last year we collaborated with NAHT Edge to offer cheaper courses to Middle Leaders and last month we partnered with Optimum OTrack, 2Eskimo Reading Assessment Software and Madeleine Lindley Bookstore to offer our Rewards customers 15% discount off their products. We are looking to add to this list of partners so we can help schools in other ways.
These are all ways we are trying to continue to work with schools. Our motive for doing this is two-fold; to continue to trade in a very difficult and challenging market but more importantly, to continue to support heads, teachers and pupils, and work with schools.
Nobody goes into education to make lots of money (or at least I don’t think they do!), we get into it because we care, we are passionate and we believe that investment in children is investment in the future.
Next year, Focus is 25 years old. We have seen the fads, the trends, the changes in education; the good, the bad and the ugly if you like. I’m sure there will be more challenges to come, but we are hoping to remain constant and positive throughout and continue to support primary schools.
Claire is the Operations Director at Focus Education and a board member of the Focus Academy Trust.