Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke

Cuts for Schools ?

I was suprised this morning to read of Ed Balls interview with the Sunday Times  Labour’s £2bn cuts for schools in which he apparently calls for around £2bn worth of cuts to the education system, arrived at by – amongst other things, reducing the senior leadership teams of schools, and also making savings by bringing schools together in “Federations” where they would have one head overseeing many schools.

He doesn’t seem to be saying quite the same thing on his web site where he publishes a transcript of a later interview televised on the BBC’s The Politics Show Transcript of interview on The Politics Show . It’s interesting that the BBC in it’s version of the two interviews seems to rely rather more on the edited account of the Time’s interview, than it does on the interview it carried out itself :  ‘Labour ‘could save schools £2bn’ . Perhaps because Ed Balls did say in the BBC interview “I think it’s really important to have a head in every school, that’s my view”, and also (in relation to federation of schools) “I’m not saying  … I’m going to impose from the top down you must do this” – which sort of takes the sting out of it.

He did more than hint though at making savings through a reduction in Senior Managers, and that this could be partly achieved by encouraging Federations of schools.

So what it’s it all about ?

Well I may be a headteacher, but I don’t really know. Ed Balls is not a foolish man, and must have been aware that this would be reported, pretty much in the way it has been – a way in which at first glance few people working in the field of education would immediately clap their hands with glee.

I do know a few things though. I know that forming federations at the moment is a matter which is done at the discretion purely of the Governing Bodies of the schools involved. So it would involve either primary legislation, or an unprecedented co-ordination of Local Authority arm-bending to make sure federations happen in any large numbers.

Not that they don’t happen. In fact one of the reasons why federations do crop up is that many schools find it difficult to recruit suitable headteachers, and quite often end up seconding a head from a nearby school to oversee another one – this has in some cases led to “executive heads” being appointed across several schools. I couldn’t comment on whether it saves money – you’d need to do the sums in a real situation. However,I can’t imagine it would save much. Having an executive head often means having individual heads as well – or at least having ‘super deputies’ paid a similar salary to a head. Once you lose the sitting candidates (who are often the first post holders for “super deputy” jobs) these can be difficult posts to fill. In many ways all the responsibilities of a head (some of them legal responsibilities) – but without autonomy and individual influence on the school that a true headship brings. No head who has enjoyed being a head would ever want to go back to “running someone elses show”.

What I seem to be sensing from Ed Ball’s comments is a hint towards further Government commitment to ways of ‘radicalising’ schools – in current parlance this of course means academies, trust schools, specialist school and federations of schools – all of which have met to some extent with criticism from teachers unions.

I’m not particularly opposed to them though. Here’s why –

Since the Conservatives took power in 1979, and particularly since the Education Reform Act of 1989 there’s been a move towards schools having greater and greater independence in managing their own affairs. The role of a Headteacher has changed dramatically – and is now a multi-faceted business leadership role – but one which requires experience and expertise in education first and foremost as a qualification for the post. There are things that crop up in Headteachers woking lives then that are way outside their realm of experience – and many is the time when I would dearly love to employ – (for example) – an accountant, a computer engineer, an architect, a builder, a fund raiser, another 4 secretaries – I could go on. Why – because they would help me to do the things that I either don’t have time for, or am simply not particularly good at.

Of course I am at liberty to employ those people if I wish – so what stops me ? Two things ! –  first of all it’s very difficult to move from the structure of schools which is well established – it’s hard to think radical, because everything’s set up to keep things the same. Secondly – I’m too small. I can’t afford to do those things.

Now – supposing I was part of a group of 5 schools. Then we might be able to appoint some people who could help us to be more efficient. Suppose that we had more freedom to employ people in roles other than the traditional ones – dare I say it – as an Academy ? Then we could think radical – we could stop trying to do all the same old things better, and start doing new things better. We could forge partnerships with Universities, we could place our teachers on research programmes, sponsored by the people who sponsor university research. We could …  well we could do all sorts really.

This is what I think Ed Balls is after, and I’m not especially disagreeing (I could pick a few holes though). There are plenty who would though – the NUT for one union (and I’m a member) would throw a real wobbly for sure. So I think the Secretary of State is measuring his words, knowing that anything in the press that smacks of a slap in the face for the relatively highly paid will go down well in at least some circles, and knowing that there’ll be time enough to present a radical agenda at some time in the future.

Well that’s my guess anyway.

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September 20, 2009 - Posted by | education, politics | , , , , ,

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