Over the last few months I’ve visited quite a few of our schools across the city. Still lots to go but here are a few thoughts so far:
1. All are struggling under Tory cuts
Since 2010, schools have suffered huge budget cuts. Gloucester schools are no exception.
In fact Gloucester schools are at the sharp end of the funding crisis. Schools have seen up to £350,000 taken from their annual budget, which ends up at £481 per pupil each year.
And yet Richard Graham denies again and again there is any problem.
2. Schools are increasingly being expected to cover a range of public services
Austerity is having a huge impact on families’ lives. So whilst school cuts mean that schools are already struggling, other public service cuts mean that schools are having to deal with more complex needs and circumstances.
Schools are increasingly being expected to step in and fill gaps where other parts of public services are too stretched e.g. health and wellbeing, social services, and more.
Of course schools want the best for their students and I could see how committed teachers are to delivering the best well-being for their students. But they are facing a toxic austerity mix of a housing crisis, an NHS under strain, social services under pressure, increasingly insecure and low-paid work putting unbearable stress on parents – these factors are all contributing to a system at breaking point.
3. Almost all schools say biggest challenge is budget
Most schools say budget is their biggest challenge. They are expected to do more with less.
For example, Gloucestershire County Council recently decided it would make schools pay more to support children with special education needs (SEN) from their own budgets. Schools have to pay the first £6,000 of support for each child with SEN. As my friend David Drew MP from Stroud has been highlighting, this means that schools who welcome all children face a financial penalty.
This is one of the most unfair aspects of Gloucestershire’s school funding crisis. It penalises inclusive schools and is yet another financial whammy to headteachers whose budgets are already on the brink.
There are other serious issues at play, too.
Academisation results in the fragmentation and marketisation of the education system and it isn’t the direction of travel most people working in education want.
There are four grammar schools in Gloucester, all taking students from outside the city.
Structural inequalities are built into our city’s education system. This has no easy fix and won’t go away quickly. But we can’t pretend its not there.
4. Staff are going the extra mile
I can understand why teachers are sceptical of politicians, who continually tell them that they aren’t doing enough.
I heard repeatedly that recruitment among secondary schools is a big challenge. Staff are committed to schools, but their jobs are getting more and more difficult and so more staff struggle with their own health and well-being.
Although things are changing, Ofsted is still a big problem for headteachers and we can’t keep assessing schools by the same metrics when they differ so drastically. And why do we continue to monitor some schools and not others? The system in its current form isn’t fair, and is adding further stress and pressure to schools – in a way that is not often constructive.
5. Students are amazing (unsurprisingly!)
I loved meeting such a range of students of all ages, from infants at Tredworth Infants, to juniors at Abbeymead Primary School, to seniors at Severn Vale – and more.
What struck me most was the community atmosphere at all of the schools. There was a huge amount of love, respect, and kindness student to student, teacher to student, student to teacher, and staff to staff.
Children are our future.
We must fund our education system properly and give teachers and school staff the respect they deserve.