Free School Meals – A Cumbrian Perspective

I remember my days as a pupil at St. Aidan’s School, where pupils collected a lime green token at morning registration for their free school meal. The embarrassment and inevitable mocking had to be endured again a couple of hours later as the token was exchanged publicly with the cashier in the lunch hall… Gladly, for most schools, the pupil shaming has gone. However, free school meals (FSM) has been a key feature of educational news and debate in recent months. Whilst political parties on both sides of the house continue to argue over nuances in data sets and extrapolation models, the real losers are the children.

The debate has risen due to welfare reforms and if the reforms go ahead whether parents can or cannot claim FSM for their children. Currently, all school children aged 4-7 are entitled to a universal free school meal, but children aged 7+ are only eligible for free school meals dependent on family income. Both the Education Secretary and the Work and Pensions Secretary both claimed in the House of Commons that no child will miss out on a free school meal due to welfare reforms. Whilst opposition parties claim that children will miss out on FSM if reforms go through as planned. Once again we have seen our children used as a political football to score political points.1As FSM are dependent on family income it is important to consider children from low-income families. Whilst the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) data acknowledge child poverty between 2010 and 2017 increased from 27% to 30% respectfully.[2] Worryingly the group of children most affected by poverty are those with two or more siblings. Again, DWP data illustrates that child poverty has risen from 32% in 2012 to 42% in 2017, for this subset of data. Contradicting this trend are children who live in a two working parent household, where child poverty remains constant. As in most data sets covering a large demographic, it is easy to find a narrative to suit any ideological theme.

Independent analysis of the reforms by @TheIFS[3] indicates that currently there are both winners and losers under the reforms. With 210,000 children gaining a FSM under the new proposals and 160,000 children losing their FSM entitlement. Therefore, a net gain of 50,000 more children able to access FSM. With the political party to the right claiming a victory by increasing entitlement by 50,000, the political party on the left are also claiming a victory by suggesting their data was right and that 160,000 children will lose. The most worrying statistic from the independent analysis was that the threshold for FSM entitlement will be frozen at £7400 and will not rise with inflation. The impact of this will be an estimated 80,000 – 100,000 not accessing a FSM over the next 4 years.

Whilst both political parties are claiming victory – we, as educationalists, should not accept any child losing out on a FSM. Children who receive free school meals perform educationally less well than their peers – Government data from the Department For Education (DfE)[4] support this with a 28 percent gap between children receiving free school meals and their wealthier peers in terms of the number achieving at least 5 A*-C GCSE grades. Therefore we need to ensure these children get their FSM as this will also entitle them to a pupil premium allowance to help reduce their attainment gap.

Cumbrian Picture

Currently, the Children’s Society estimate that a total of 15,100 Cumbrian children are living in poverty, with 11,400 of these children not claiming a free school meal.[5] This data is surprising to many and can be explained in a variety of ways.

Screen Shot 2018-04-06 at 19.39.28Some would argue that the threshold to claim free school meals is too high and therefore children who are living in poverty are not eligible to claim a free school meal, however, simple maths tells you this is not the case.

Claiming a FSM is an issue for so many Cumbrian families. I agree and acknowledge the system is set up relatively easy – a five-minute online form, which requires National Insurance information and an understanding of your income and benefits. For the majority of families, this would be straightforward. However, not for everyone.

Some families struggle with the literacy skills necessary to access and complete the forms. Some families do not speak English at all. Some families have no internet access. Some families don’t understand their own benefit entitlement, and whether they are eligible. Some families are too proud. Some families don’t want their child to stand out at school and hand over that lime green token. These reasons happen in all schools and in every school I’ve worked in. In my opinion, this is why there is a difference in the total number of children living in poverty and the total number of children accessing a FSM – although no data set is available to support this claim.

If a child is eligible for a FSM then they should get one. A child has no control over whether they get their entitlement – this needs to change.

One party has promoted the idea of all children receiving a FSM. I see the logic in every child receiving a FSM, and I can see the benefits of this especially with no child being missed. However, I don’t believe this should become government policy for all children; quite simply, some families can financially contribute. The government funding needed for every child to receive a FSM meal could be better spent by schools.


Whilst both main political parties disagree on the way forward, there is a simpler, centre ground solution that would appeal to all parties. The simplest solution, where no child that is entitled to a FSM misses out, would be to introduce an automatic rollout dependent on family income. This would be relatively simple, with the DWP liaising their data on family income with other government agencies and FSM should be automatically awarded if a child entitled to one. This way if a child is entitled to a FSM they will receive one. As educationalists we should be lobbying for this change.






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School Funding –  A burden on the treasury or an investment in our future? A Cumbrian perspective.

The issue of school funding – or lack of it has continued to create local and national headlines continually for the past twelve months. Post General Election, many have questioned whether we are any further forward. Despite warm words of encouragement from a cross-section of MPs, I can confirm that currently (September 2017) my budget has not changed.

Current Financial picture for Cumbria Schools

We constantly hear our government mantra of ‘record levels of school funding.’ It used to be just head teacher who rolled their eyes at this, but parents know the truth in Cumbria too and do not buy into this disingenuous spin. It is true, and everyone accepts that more money is being spent on education, but the reality is that this is due to rising pupil numbers[1] and all additional money is used to cover the costs of additional pupils within the education system.

If it were the case that funding was genuinely increasing, then we would see our budgets rise, however, this is not the case. Currently, each pupil is awarded a minimum amount of funding, before any additional extra funding is allocated (for example special needs funding, deprivation funding, sparsity funding etc). This is set locally and is a national postcode lottery. Funding averages out nationally at £4800 per primary school pupil.[2] In Cumbria, the age-weighted pupil unit of money (AWPU) is significantly less than the national average and has been slowly decreasing over the last five years for our primary schools.

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From this table, we can deduce that if a school has static pupil numbers, the school will have a slightly reduced budget over time. It is clear that there will be no room to cope with any increased expenditure.


The National Audit Office[3], recently produced a guide for MPs to better understand the school system (6th September 2017). The chart below illustrates the real term cuts that schools are facing year on year as acknowledged by the Department for Education.

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 20.38.54In the simplest of terms, to provide the exact same level of education year on year, a school would need to increase their expenditure by 3.4% during 2016-17 with additional increases year on year rising to 8.7% during 2019-20. These cuts add to the equivalent of £3 billion across our school-based system.

The government has said, that schools can find these efficiency savings, partly through staff restructure (£1.7 billion) and better purchasing of goods (£1.3 billion). However, the Government’s auditors have been particularly damning regarding this claim. The Public Accounts Committee (2017)[4] informed Ministers quite clearly that the, ‘Department for Education does not seem to understand the pressures that schools are already under.

The report concludes:

Schools have already been making savings in a number of ways, but the Department [for Education] considers they can save more, such as through better energy deals. However, staff account for three-quarters of schools’ spending, and savings here will be harder to achieve without detrimental effects on the quality of education and educational outcomes.

The chairperson’s  recommendation to the DfE opens with, ‘Pupils’ futures are at risk if the Department for Education fails to act on the warnings in our report.’ School leaders do not accept that this volume of savings can be made without compromising the education outcomes and neither does the Public Accounts Committee.

What impact will this have on Cumbrian schools?

Cumbria has a higher proportion of schools currently running a deficit budget[5]. Therefore, if we are already starting from a position with no surplus or money reserves, then we have to make cuts in some form to balance the books.

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The school budget pressures are present and significant: the education of our current pupils is being damaged by lack of funding and policy choices from our government. Ministers and the department have been warned consistently by a variety of their own auditing bodies, yet despite this, our budgets remain the same.

£1.3 billion announcement  

A recent government announcement states that further funding has been introduced overall to schools totaling £1.3 billion[6]. Please don’t get carried away! All educational stakeholders were pleased with this notional step in the right direction, with some ministers saying additional new funding to be introduced in 2018. But – as there always is – we must note that this is not additional money just a redistribution6 of existing funding, by cutting money to the Free-School policy and reducing building capital spending[6].

Furthermore, this redistribution of funding may not reach the classroom. This is due to the fact that all current funding decisions made are controlled by a small representation of education stakeholders (Schools Forum), and it is their decision how to allocate funding across the County. We already have experiences of how this is not fair within Cumbria. One example is linked to schools that are located in a remote area – this is known as sparsity factor. Government guidelines indicate that schools should receive between £1- £100,000 for sparcity. Given the rural nature of our County, you would be forgiven for thinking we would follow this principle; unfortunately we don’t. Payments are set and capped at £20,000. Furthermore, Cumbria’s definition of sparsity is significantly different from the national definition, making it harder for our most rural schools to access additional and vital funding.

In regards to the recent £1.3 billion announcement, it is clear this funding is to be introduced over a two-year period. Therefore, it will be 2020 before it has been fully delivered to our school system. It also falls £1.7 billion short of the cuts to schools currently face by 2019 as indicated by the National Audit Office figures.

Overview of the current situation

In summary of the current financial picture remains quite bleak. We have declining budgets; increased costs that are not regulated by schools; no longterm planning due to an uncertain financial future; and finally, a starting point of one of the worst areas for current levels of school-based deficits.

Impact on the current generation of school pupils

We know that this issue is biting hard in Cumbria. With head teachers, teachers, governors and parents speaking out with both anger, passion and discontent. We have evidence of staff redundancies[7], subjects being cut limiting the educational choices[8], strain and impacting on the teacher and leaders well-being[9], significantly increased number of exclusions of our most vulnerable pupils in Cumbria[10], Parent’s being asked to provide resources to keep classrooms functioning[11]. It is too early to see the impact on pupil academic performance and no evidence as yet on increased mental health pressures for our pupils.


This blog only discusses part of the significant problem of underfunding – we have not even touched on the £6.7 billion investment needed today to bring our current school buildings up to a safe and satisfactory standard for our pupils. Nor have we touched on the impact underfunding has on staff workload and staffing recruitment and retention issues.

How can we make a difference?

We need to keep sharing this issue, and never be silent. Schools and parents must unite and let the government know this is unacceptable. We need to get the chancellor to agree to additional funding to go into schools now and continue to go into our schools. We can all add to pressure this by writing to our MPs and lobbying them to add pressure for a change in policy.

Should schools be a burden on the treasury? Some would argue that the economy now is the most important thing and that there isn’t enough money for schools. However, what we invest today, our society and economy will be rewarded with in the future.












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School Funding Increasing – I Think Not Minister.

Having expressed concerns to my local MP over school funding, he was keen to point out that, ‘school funding totals over £40bn, which is the highest on record.’ In further correspondence regarding this issue from the Rt Hon Nick Gibb (Minister for Schools), he too was keen to illustrate the same point, ‘This year, it [school Funding] is the largest on record, totalling almost £41bn. This is set to increase to £42bn by 2019-20.’  This all sounds great and sounds very positive for schools, implying that school budgets are not only the highest they have ever been, but they are also rising.


As a head teacher, this argument doesn’t really concur with my own school’s budget issues. I believe these ‘roll off the tongue’ phrases have become ingrained with the government’s mantra and are regurgitated anytime anyone challenges the government regarding schools’ funding.


I, therefore, have explored my own school’s funding to establish a true reflection of school funding. Having pulled files from the archives in school I examined the annual budgets carefully. Coming up with a method to explore funding over time wasn’t straight forward.


To explore the total annual budget and compare this over time year on year, is problematic. It is linked to pupil numbers, so either a rise or a fall in pupils will impact on the total sum of money given to the school.


The most simplistic measure was to explore the basic entitlement. All school budgets have a basic entitlement aged weight pupil unit (AWPU) – this is the minimum funding each child will receive. Looking at this figure is a good overall indicator of school budget trends as it shows the minimum funding over time.   Figures from primary schools across Cumbria illustrate the AWPU amounts awarded per pupil in the table below.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 16.19.09

Table A –  AWPU funding for Cumbrian primary schools 2013-2018.


To look at this data in isolation, it is clear school core funding per pupil is decreasing over time. However, I believe it is disingenuous to use this methodology to scrutinise funding. This method is too simplistic as it omits other factors.


School budgets are complex and remind me of mobile phone contracts. Customers are offered a core contract and can ‘bolt on’ additional extras, such as additional texts, minutes and data packages. School budgets work very similarly. Schools are given the basic pupil entitlement (AWPU) and receive additional funding which applies for all pupils. These additional extras are the lump sum (currently £75,000 for every primary school in Cumbria); deprivation factor; children who are looked after; low-cost high incidents of SEN; English as an additional language; sparsity; rates; rents. All these figures combined give a total amount for the school’s block of funding.


Hopefully, you are still with me… Not long till the end… I know it’s dry.


If we combine these additional funding streams, and then divide it across all the pupils on roll for that year, we can see how this extra money added to the AWPU can reflect a clearer picture of school funding per pupil. This is illustrated in the table below to show funding per pupil over the last five years.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 16.19.03

TABLE B. Schools Block Funding distributed per pupil.


Table B Illustrates whole school funding over a five-year period. The column marked other, is always variable depending on current pupil demographic and can fluctuate in any school year to year. The column marked Total funding per pupil is a true reflection of minimum total funding allocated per pupil. Although there is a slight variation year to year, both positive and negative. On the whole largely the same amount of funding year to year with a five-year variation of +£3.48 per pupil.


People who work in schools will undoubtedly say, ‘the pupil premium funding or the high needs funding is not included.’ This was not included in this comparison as this funding is not for the whole school as it is attached to individual pupils. As these pupils enter and leave school year on year and it would clearly skew the data. Therefore, by not including these streams it gives an accurate reflection of the true money per pupil.


If funding is static, as is indicated by the data, then the National Audit Office suggests that schools will be facing real terms cut to funding by 8% to counteract cumulative cost pressures, such as pay rises and higher employer contributions to national insurance and the teachers’ pension scheme.


To balance this, against the rhetoric ministers spin regarding school funding is nothing more than the political spin that is misguiding the public.


The real truth is that funding is at record levels and increasing just to cope with the additional pupils in the school system (174,000 additional primary pupils and 284,000 additional secondary pupils).






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Is there really a funding crisis?

Many parents have asked me recently about the school funding crisis that is ever present in the media. The question I get asked most is, it can’t be that bad surely? This is where the problem really is. All Head Teachers I know are generally positive, glass half full people. We are nearly always smiling on the outside and fuelled by optimism and belief it will be alright. Our natural problem-solving traits and ‘let’s get on with it approach,’ means just that. We get by and make the best of every situation. However deep down we all know that we are already amidst a funding crisis which is impacting on all schools.


The Department for Education and MPs – often the masters of spin – refute this and often spin the lines of; ‘We have protected school budgets in this parliament,’ and ‘school funding is at record levels.’ ‘All talk of a crisis is nothing more than scaremongering by the unions.’ Looking at these three typical replies, they are interesting, but allow me to answer these in turn.


  • We have protected school budgets in this parliament -TRUE, but this means funding is remaining static since 2015 and not increasing in line with inflation. Therefore, the monetary value per pupil is going down in real terms.
  • School funding is at record levels. – TRUE, but this is only because there are more pupils than ever before, so funding has to go up with rising pupils numbers.
  • All talk of a crisis is scaremongering by the unions – FALSE – It is not the unions generating this story, it is the government’s own auditors – The National Audit office (NAO). The NAO clearly stated in December 2016, that due to cost pressures the nations school system faces a real term loss of £3bn equating to an 8% cut to school budgets in real terms by 2019-2020. This is further supported by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (Feb 2017) suggesting that ‘Spending per pupil is expected to fall by 6.5% in real terms between 2015–16 and 2019–20‘.


A parent governor recently asked me, ‘… but wont the new funding formula sort this out?’ Interestingly, many head teachers support the new funding formula as an idea. The aim of the formula is to ensure there is fairness between different regions, and to ensure each child gets the same amount of initial funding, regardless of where they live. Currently, we have a situation nationally where some pupils receive over £6000 per year and some less than £3000 per year, depending on where they live. This cannot be right or fair. The aim of the new formula is to ensure that all the money in education is shared out fairly and equally. I tried to sum this up in a school way the other day… imagine if the nation’s school system budget was a pizza, it is only right that everyone gets the same sized slice. The real problem is not the slicing up of the pizza equally, it is that the pizza just isn’t big enough!


Having explained all this in an easy to understand format to many people, the first question that people generally ask is, ‘what are the additional cost pressures we face as a school?’ There are many changes to school spending, since our budgets were frozen per pupil in 2015.  These are some of the main factors that school leaders are now having to find money for:


  • Annual pay increase per staff member = 4.4% pay increase for staffing over the parliament;
  • Apprentice levy introduced = further 1 % increase to staffing;
  • Increase in national insurance contributions;
  • Increase in employer pension contributions;
  • Increase in external services contracts such as cleaning, wages, HR, etc.


All of these amount to an increase in school spending, whilst funding remains static. Head Teachers have to decide how to find the money to fund these additional pressures. This will have an impact at some point in all schools. It is estimated that 78% of all schools in England will not have a sustainable budget by 2019 as a result of underfunding.


But how will this impact on individual schools? This is interesting and every school will deal with this separately, based on their own circumstance. However, having spoken to many head teachers from across the whole County and beyond, there are some frequent responses. Typically, I hear some schools saying that they are reducing staffing levels – both teachers and support staff to make the books balance. Other schools are losing curriculum subjects; some schools are increasing class sizes. Many schools are reviewing and the shelving essential building repairs and projects to improve the educational environment. The overall outcome is a reduction in front line services, or more bluntly – larger classes with less support and fewer curriculum choices in more run-down schools.


Having explained all of this, many parents have asked, how can they help? In reality, the only people who can change this are the government. I believe this is the key. As MPs are an elected body who represent us all, if enough people speak out, by either writing, emailing, tweeting, phoning, speaking directly to their own MP. They will act; even if this is not out of moral purpose, then simply to preserve their seat in Westminster. People can attend local meetings, as we have had in the north of the County this week, in both Carlisle and Penrith.  Continued and sustained pressure will work, but only with the support of all parents.


Finally, many people believe that governments priority is business and industry. It has been argued that if this sorted out then everything else will follow. I can see that logic and see how this might work for the here and now. But without investment in the education system today, who will work and run the industries and businesses of the future?








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Dear Mr. Stevenson MP…


Dear Mr. Stevenson,

I am asking for your support as our local MP for Carlisle. I have grave concerns about the government’s direction on education policy which I believe will be to the detriment of schools both within and beyond your constituency. There are many things that frustrate me regarding the DfE, including the inability for Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education and Nick Gibb Secretary of State for Schools, to listen to the teaching profession. Hence, I need your support as an MP, even if it means disagreeing with the conservative policies.

I have many current concerns regarding education, including a poor assessment policy, clear cuts to school funding, policies not being based on research or what is best for the children, and my main current concern – the forcing of all schools to become an academy by 2020. I am happy with school choosing to be an academy, and for some schools it is a great decision, however for some schools it is not.  I have noted briefly some points as to why forcing them to become an academy is disconcerting.

Raising Standards

The secretary of state argues that by ensuring all schools are academies it will raise standards as schools will begin to collaborate and support each other. This argument is flawed. Schools already collaborate, as you know schools in your constituency already work in cluster groups supporting each other in all aspects of school life from supporting teaching and learning to joint financial procurement. This assumption that you have to be an academy to collaborate with other colleagues is outrageous.


The financial cost involved for the conversion of maintained schools to academies is preposterous. The Secretary of State said on Saturday 30th April, that a further £500m will be allocated to ensuring every school is converted to an academy. It has been suggested that this will be over £1bn to convert all schools to academies. With school budgets frozen until 2020, this money could be better spent on the pupils in every school, rather than divert public sector money into the hands of private sector solicitors and accountants. In my opinion, and that of many other people, this would give a better return on the taxpayer’s money to raise standards.

Improving good and outstanding schools

I received a letter from Nick Gibb, in December of last year, stating that our school was in the top 187 schools, how will converting our school into an academy improve the learning outcomes for my pupils? Surely you will agree, if we are as good as Nick Gibb acknowledges, we should be allowed to carry on doing what we are doing. Schools who are good or outstanding are already delivering high-quality learning opportunities for their pupils, changing the school structure will not improve the learning.

Reduction in standards

Many people believe that conversion into academies may lead to a reduction of standards. If the head teacher is out of school, engaging in multiple meetings throughout the conversion, they are not in their schools. This leads to a reduced time spent leading teaching and learning. The amount of time out of school will undoubtedly have a negative impact for the current cohorts of children.

Which system

Nicky Morgan argued last week that an education model of multi-academy trusts structure would be best placed to serve our educational system. Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, suggests that if this conversion is based on convenience then the most convenient thing to do would be to convert all schools to the majority which is maintained schools.

So many schools united against this model

Although the academy model has been around for many years now, the government have been really pushing this since 2010. I have been in meeting with the DfE and been offered cash incentives of above £25k to convert. I have heard from colleagues regarding being bullied into forced academisation. But six years on from the change of direction, there is a reason why over 15,000 schools remain as maintained schools.

You say on your website home page that you have a keen interest in education, if this is so, you will lobby for a change of direction from the DfE. I am more than happy to show you around our school and discuss this further with you. You could invite Nicky Morgan too, so she can see first-hand that you don’t need to be an academy to be successful. However, I know she doesn’t visit many non-academies, but my door is always open.

Yours sincerely

Mr. C. Coady M.Sc

Head Teacher

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Future Head Teachers – Are They Out There?

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We hear often that there is a crisis in recruiting teachers and head teachers – but what should we do about it? The answer in short is, what outcomes do we want.

Let me try to rationalise these thoughts…

The evidence presents itself as a crisis for head teacher recruitment. This is often reported in the national press, at leadership conferences,  training events and has been for some years now. A quick google search leads you to articles over the past few years, such as:

The BBC   –  (Link)

The Independent   –  (Link)

The Guardian   – (Link)

The picture looks very grim. With little or nothing being done, the stories keep emerging. It was only yesterday that Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the NAHT, spoke of recruitment as one of many challenging areas of school life that are not high on the agenda when it should be (link).  This provokes the question – Why is nothing being done by the government?

Call me a cynic, but… is this what the government want??? Do they want a shortage so much that leads us to a situation whereby the shortage of head teachers allows the government rush through an education bill informing us that one head teacher should lead several schools? This would be a cheap alternative allowing more money to filter into the classroom as staffing costs would be reduced. The reality of this is cheaper running costs of schools. However, schools would be thrown into chaos as the consistent leadership and direction given to each unique school would be lost.

What can be done?

We could moan some more and hope that government will listen and come to our aid. I feel though that the moaning strategy plays out of our hands and feeds the advantage to the government. They would be allowed to capitalise on the situation and introduce sweeping yet irreversible changes to the education system. Cynical you may argue, but I believe possible.

Many would argue, but not all, that a solution should be to pay head teachers appropriately. This pay should be comparative to the private sector leadership roles. This would solve the crisis as more people would step up to the challenge and want to become head teachers. I can see the logic in this ideology. However, the reality is this – the budgets given to schools are so tight there is no scope for this to work in real terms without cutting other aspects from the school budget. Schools are already making savings and we have gone past trimming things down, soon we will no longer call them cuts, but amputations. There is also no scope to look to this in the long term as budgets are ring-fenced for this parliament, with no increases in public sector spending likely any year soon.

Prepare, Promote and Support.

We need to keep the upper hand and solve the problem ourselves as we would with any situation in our own schools. We, as a profession, can work to ensure head teacher recruitment isn’t a headline-grabbing problem. We currently prepare senior leaders in school for the next stage of their career; often it stops there. We offer CPD opportunities and allow them to complete NPQH and Masters degrees etc. Yet it is my belief, that this preparation often doesn’t go far enough. We need to promote the role of head teacher to senior leaders and allow them to see it is not all doom and gloom, with parental pressures, accountability pressures and financial pressures. It is a fantastic opportunity to lead a school in your own direction, really stamp your own vision and values to school and lead a school into an unchartered water. Try things that you cannot do as senior leaders, rip up the rulebook and start again.

Senior leaders who deputise need to be given freedoms to build on this experience. They should be allowed the opportunity to enhance the school for the better, not just deal with staffing or parenting issues. Senior leaders should drive a school-based independent research to promote aspects of school life. This promotes the role to senior leaders and gives them glimpses of what they could achieve on their own, with the autonomy to lead a school.

Once we have prepared our senior leaders and allowed them to see the job of a head teacher is at times stressful, but equally rewarding and invigorating, we need to be ready to support them during their first headship. Mentoring or coaching should be given to all new head teachers. We as serving heads are the perfect professionals to do this. This will ensure that they don’t feel daunted by the prospect of becoming a head for the first time and allows them the comfort zone of knowing someone who has gone through a problem will be on hand to support them.

Returning to the question at the start – what should we do about the recruitment crisis? Well, if you want to avoid the chaos, then we need to look at how we can solve this together. Prepare, promote and support would offer one solution.

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Six Weeks Off Right?

FullSizeRenderWith the summer holidays underway, what do Head Teachers from small rural schools do? Six weeks of indulgence with plenty of coffee, cake, and a holiday? – Well partly right.

My six week holiday always falls into three distinct parts and getting these parts right, allows me to be ready for the September term. I always look forward to getting back to school and facing the challenges ahead, but without the right summer holidays, the new term can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Part 1 – Finish Off and Sort Out.

Finishing off of the school year is a hectic time. Publicly we have the plays, the reports, the trips, the sports days, the special assemblies. However, there is a plethora of unknown ‘stuff’ happening usually in the heads office. The majority of the self-evaluations and projects from the term/year are coming to their end. These all need to be evaluated to measure their impact on pupil learning. We complete the tracking reviews and 1-1 interviews with teachers and last years development plan is fully evaluated. This effectively closes the loop on the self-evaluation cycle and leads us to determine the priorities moving forward. The creation of schools development plan is completed with key priorities formalised. Although like most, this is completed during the last few weeks of term time.

I always find the first week of the holidays, I like to reflect on the case studies, re-look at the pupil tracking, and cross reference the outcomes of these against the development plan. This is simply to explore if all the bases are covered for the year ahead. Inevitably, some minor amendments are needed to next year’s plans, but nothing drastic. After this, I can finally put the school year to bed.

But of course in a small school, like the one I work in, the sort out period is just beginning. With contractors on site painting and decorating, other contractors creating and repairing, it is a never ending case of, “I’m just popping into school…” Phone calls concerning the colour scheme are a plenty, and switching off is difficult as we all want it just right. Then comes the deep clean… more contractors on site, washing, polishing and buffing away. Come week three, the calm usually descends on the school.

Part 2 – The Rest and Recuperation.

This is a significant and most needed part of the summer holidays, a time to be away completely from school – no phone, no email and definitely no ‘just popping in.’ It is a time to unwind and get away from it all. It is during this time that I realise how much the previous school year has taken out of me mentally. This is a time for putting my family first and spending as much quality time as possible. Holidays, or lots of days out form a key feature of this part of the summer holiday as well as plenty of time gardening and enjoying the freedom of no timetable.

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Part 3 – The Preparation.

The first two weeks of the September term are always hectic and in my experience to date, I have found being prepared and having a few things up my sleeve, saves a great deal of stress and can reduce anxiety during this period. Leading up to the inset days, I usually prepare a few assemblies that I can roll out with little preparation. I write my termly newsletter in advance of the inset day, so I am not rushing it too much and miss key information from it. I prepare some pages for the school website in advance and sort out what I will be delivering on the inset day to the school staff.  I run through key priorities of schools development plan and look at tasks/actions for the first month. All of which aims to reduce bureaucracy in the first few weeks, and to return my own professional focus.

The September inset days are key for any school leader/head teacher. Whether it is a specific training event delivered by myself, or someone else delivering the training, it is an important few days. I use it always to refresh people on our priorities, key dates for the term ahead, staff meeting/CPD calendar and how this all links to our school development plan. This allows the team to focus on what is important to the whole school.

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For me, all three parts of the holiday are equally important if the start to the new school year is going to be a success. So, not quite six weeks of indulgence…

My top tips to a successful summer holidays:

  1. Get everything sorted and finished as soon as possible.
  2. Take a break – no phone or email allowed.
  3. Refresh mentally.
  4. Enjoy your family time.
  5. Get ahead for the new term by;
      1. Focusing on the school development plan
      2. Sort/remind yourself of school calendar key immediate events
      3. Prepare any newsletters/letters
      4. Prepare a couple of assemblies

All that remains is to jump back on the carousel ride for another action packed school year.

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