Making your voice heard

18 March 2016

voice heardTeacher shortages and funding pressures are undermining schools’ efforts to give every child the chance of a truly outstanding education Teacher shortages and funding pressures ASCL is determined to make the government listen, says Malcolm Trobe.

I am delighted to be writing my first article for Leader as ASCL’s Interim General Secretary, particularly so as this edition is published as we meet in Birmingham for our Annual Conference.

ASCL, and before that the Secondary Heads Association (SHA), has played a huge role in my professional life. I have been attending the conference since 1994, making this year’s event my 22nd; it would have been my 23rd had it not been for an Ofsted inspection at our school in 1997 that meant I missed that year’s conference in Torquay.

It is a great honour to have been appointed to the interim role following Brian Lightman’s decision to stand down and I look forward to serving in this role on your behalf. I want to reiterate my thanks to Brian for his tremendous work for ASCL and pay tribute to his tireless commitment to supporting members and ensuring that the voice of school and college leaders is heard. It has been a great pleasure to work alongside him.

I will hold this post until the appointment of a new permanent General Secretary. This process will necessarily take some time and I want to take this opportunity to assure members that, during this period and beyond, ASCL will continue to be focused on providing the very best support possible and campaigning on the issues that matter most to you.

The two uppermost in probably all of our minds are teacher supply and funding. We have been constantly highlighting these matters in our meetings with ministers and civil servants, as well as in the media. We are pleased that the government has now recognised the urgency of the teacher supply situation. However, more action is certainly needed and we will continue to press hard over this issue.

To this end, we have conducted a recent survey of ASCL members that shows the enormous scale of the problem facing schools and colleges. Nearly 85 per cent of respondents say the recruitment situation is so serious that it is having a detrimental impact on the education they are able to provide.

Incentives needed

This is an important finding as it demonstrates that this situation is directly affecting young people. It adds weight to our argument that urgent action is needed to promote teaching as a career and that more incentives are needed to attract graduates into the profession. We will be redoubling our efforts to make this case to ministers.

I am also acutely aware of the concern that exists over the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) proposals, both in general and in respect of teacher supply. In our response to the Department for Education’s (DfE’s) consultation, we have highlighted our concern that schools will not have enough teachers in the EBacc subjects and that there are insufficient plans in place to address this shortage. In particular, we have recommended that a review group should be set up by the government to improve the supply of modern language teachers.

Our consultation response also raises wider concerns over the potential impact of the EBacc proposals on arts and technology subjects. We have warned that one unintended consequence of an EBacc-focused curriculum and limited options for creative arts is that music and drama may become the preserve of the elite, accessible only to families who are able to afford private tuition.

It is disappointing that the DfE responded to our warning by issuing a press statement in which they accused us of being ‘disingenuous’. We believe that they should listen to the concerns of school leaders rather than dismissing them in this way. It is our hope that they may yet do so and introduce a greater degree of flexibility into their EBacc plans.

On funding, we are pleased that the government has committed to the introduction of a national fair funding formula. It is a measure on which we have campaigned for many years with several different governments and to say that it is overdue is an understatement. By the time you read this article it is likely that the consultation proposals will have either been published or will be due imminently.

It is fair to say, however, that this is when the hard work will begin. I know that for some members in areas that receive very low levels of funding under the current arrangements the new formula cannot come soon enough. Equally, I know that there are members in certain cities, particularly London, who are very concerned that the implementation of the new formula will mean that their schools will lose funding.

Therefore, it is absolutely essential that the time is taken to ensure that the new formula really is as fair and equitable as possible, that it takes into account all the relevant factors and that it is phased in over a period of time to allow schools to manage any changes in their budgets.

Cost pressures

Most of all, we must continue to make the case that a new funding formula is not the same thing as sufficient funding. The most immediate and urgent problem, as you know only too well, is that a series of unfunded cost pressures on top of frozen budgets mean that schools and colleges are experiencing substantial real-terms cuts. The situation in post-16 education, where funding levels are woeful, is particularly severe.

In our recent survey, 77 per cent of respondents said that financial pressures have had a detrimental effect on the education they are able to provide. The situation is likely to be even more critical over the next 12 months. Again, these are important findings as they show starkly that the funding situation is having a direct impact on young people.

It reinforces our argument that greater levels of investment in the system are urgently needed. Both funding and teacher supply will be major themes of this year’s ASCL Annual Conference, and we will be highlighting them in our keynote speeches and in the media.

I know that these matters are important to members because they want the best for the young people in their care. It has always been clear to me that school and college leaders share a deep sense of moral purpose. They fundamentally believe that education can and does make the world a better place. It is this moral purpose that keeps leaders going through the tough times and is the reason why they so often overcome extraordinary challenges.

That is why moral purpose is at the heart of ASCL’s Blueprint that we launched a year ago. Its core principle is the belief that every young person can achieve, no matter what their perceived level of ability or social background.

I can assure members that we will continue to make every possible effort to put forward this case and make sure your voice is heard.

Malcolm Trobe is ASCL Interim General Secretary.