There are three major challenges facing schools nationally, which all of our school community should know about. These were all raised through the recent headteachers’ conference and put to the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds. They are major problems for nearly every school in the UK to a greater and lesser extent, and they are starting to affect us at TWBS.
First is insufficient funding from government. The level of funding for schools is not keeping pace with costs schools have to bear. Despite the DfE saying they are spending more on education than ever before, the fact is that rising costs and rising pupil numbers nationally outstrip the money provided by the government. It has been estimated that funding levels for the average secondary school have dropped by over 6%, which equates to about four teachers. The problem for us at TWBS is compounded by having no yr 7 & 8 and a large sixth form: funding in the post 16 sector is likely to drop by 13%. The main impact of this is that class sizes may go up, as well as a loss of basic resources, support staff and extra-curricular activities. However, at TWBS we have worked really hard on managing our finances and ensuring spending is proportionate to income, and often we have been good at getting the support from parents, sponsors and grants, including £2m of school building improvement from RBWM. This entrepreneurial but realistic approach will continue.
Secondly, teacher workload. According to the DfE an average teacher works 55 hours a week. We know at TWBS many teachers work far more than this. Teachers are salaried, get no bonuses and are very limited in performance related pay because they are public sector employees. But the pace of curriculum and exam change and levels of public accountability have been astronomical in the last few years. New A levels in all subjects in the last three years, new GCSEs this year and last, new performance tables which have brought about some curriculum changes, new expectations around safety and PSHE, and so on and so forth. And all without a single penny to help implement those changes. The goodwill and professionalism of teachers is what is making these reforms happen, on top of their basic job. But it is taking its toll on the profession. The number one reason junior teachers leave the profession before they complete their 5th year (about a third of them nationally) is due to excessive workload. Teachers are twice as likely to suffer from work related stress compared to the national average of all jobs. Our situation is better than others for a number of reasons, but it is always fragile and a sudden exodus of teachers could undo the developments of the last three years. At TWBS we are paying a great deal of attention to teacher well-being, actively seeking ways to minimise bureaucracy and cutting back on the hours teachers are directed to work. We also work hard to maintain a positive atmosphere in school, making it a cheerful and respectful place to work. This will always be a work in progress, but it seems be going reasonably well here at TWBS.
Thirdly, recruitment. The DfE are responsible for meeting targets for teacher training each year and they have missed their own targets for the last five years, particularly in subjects like design technology and IT, as well as Maths, Science and English. This is clearly bad news for maintaining the quality of teaching and ensuring every child has a qualified teacher in front of them. In Windsor we work with Schools Direct and the WGS Teaching School to ensure a steady stream of qualified teachers, most of whom end up being employed in Windsor schools. Currently we have four newly qualified teachers from this route and three trainees working towards qualification. Without this partnership we would struggle. TWBS is a good place to train and a good place to start your teaching career. A lot of that is due to the good relationships between teachers, students and parents. We all need to maintain this positive and developmental environment.
I am not writing about this to be a doom and gloom monger, that is not what we are about here at TWBS – we eat challenges for breakfast. Rather, I want everyone to be under no illusions about the large problems facing our school in the next few years, but to feel reassured that we know about them and have plans already in place to help us overcome them. As the headteachers’ conference agreed, we need to avoid being passive and accepting of these matters, and get up, get organised and do something about them. That is exactly what we are doing.