Dear Gillian Keegan,
I am sure that, by now, you will have been told of the sheer joy that working in education can bring. School staff at all levels work tirelessly to make the whole system work as well as it does. However, many professionals feel the strain of the enormous effort this takes.
The recruitment and retention crisis we face is not just about money. Look at the numbers of staff who work in schools for what is, frankly, derisory pay - professionals who struggle to make ends meet, but won’t leave for different jobs as they feel so fulfilled by the daily difference they make.
As we ring in the New Year it is a good time to stop and reflect on a few of the more pertinent issues surrounding education. The funding announced in the Autumn statement is very welcome and, as someone who has been less than complimentary of the Department and wider government in the past, credit must go where it is due. The money will make a substantial difference to schools and children, but this must not be the end of it. It can’t be. What has been announced is no more than a sticking plaster, and will provide merely a short-term solution to a very long-term problem.
Here are some new year’s resolutions for you to consider as we begin 2023.
Don’t turn off the taps
Funding streams need to keep coming, as we are only now returning to something like 2010 levels. We all know the effect that the cost-of-living crisis is having on families, businesses and public services. Your government has long desired a world-class education system and, in many ways, it has one – it’s just not sustainable. Please keep pushing for more funding for education. The shoestring doesn’t have much more give in it.
Make your purpose clear
What is your vision for education? What do you want children to achieve and what is the best way to go about this? Please consider whether the current path is the correct one. It is easy to say we want children to have knowledge and skills to rival all other countries, but much harder to achieve, especially when the measure of education is seemingly only in high-stakes accountability. Other countries have taken a different route to that of testing, high-stakes inspections and measuring everything that moves, and have done so with huge amounts of success. A system based on trust and support, rather than judgement, might solve several current issues within the profession.
Get a real grip on the issues
Review. Research. Consult. Listen, and then make decisions. Base these decisions on what is needed, not on what you think is needed. Don’t base them on what a small subset of the country and the profession need, but get a proper view. Find out what the challenges are for small schools, large schools, MATS, FE and individuals at all levels. Visit schools and speak to as many people as possible. Don’t just invite consultations, don’t ask people to volunteer, but get your hands dirty. Send every person who works in the DfE to work in a school for two weeks. Every single person, yourself included. Work their hours, live their lives and actually find out what it is like for us and our colleagues.
Actions not words, please
Words are easy. They can be uttered and forgotten in an instant, but they are meaningless unless they are backed up with tangible actions. The profession remains scarred by the barrage of thanks it received during Covid while at the same time being treated in the most contemptible way. You can say thank you, you can say we are appreciated, and you can say we are valued but every time those words are uttered, I am afraid that is all they are. Trust needs to be rebuilt.
Ring in this new year with a commitment to showing real improvements in the status, conditions and pay for school staff at all levels. This, in turn, will lead to marked improvements for the children as they move through school and achieve what we all dream of – an education system that works for everyone.
Help us to start 2023 with renewed hope.
The author is a headteacher in England and Tweets at @secretHT1. Go to: secretheadteacher.org