Hello everyone, please excuse the somewhat lazy approach to the blog post this week - it's the show notes for episode one of the second series of my podcast, which has just celebrated its 100th download!
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Right, plugging over, here is a round-up of some of the education news stories from the past few days...
The cost of living crisis is flexing its muscles and punching schools in the gut… literally… sort of.
According to Callum Mason from TES schools are having to cut tens of thousands from their education budgets in order to meet the rising costs of meals for children.
This, naturally, has a knock-on effect for parents. With school meals already costing an average of £47 per child, per month, and the average family food bill increasing to around £460 a month (and growing), this future is beginning to look very expensive indeed. Especially if you have more than one child at school. All it takes is a pair of siblings and you’re looking at the better part of £100 a month just for school meals. This is why many school leaders fear that pupils who are ineligible for free school meals will be priced out.
But what happens then? The family food budget will either have to increase to accommodate packed lunches or the children will be sent to school with whatever can be bought and prepared out of the existing food bill. Is that a bad thing? Many Primary schools in the country sold off their in-house kitchens or converted them into classroom space and are relying on reheating pre-prepared food anyway; could a parent-produced packed lunch be better, nutritionally speaking?
I've asked a nutritionist but she is yet to get back to me. As soon as she does, I'll update you!
The obvious solution is to increase the range of eligibility for free school meals, something the Labour party is looking into on top of offering free breakfast club places for every child under the age of 11. This is very noble, and Nick Clegg (remember him?) did something similar with children below the age of 7 not all that long ago (2013), but it has knock-on effects. Funding for disadvantaged children is linked to their free school meal status, for example, a data point that is rendered meaningless if everyone is entitled to free school meals. And then there’s the cost. Schools have already been told to increase staff pay after buying equipment to cope with COVID while simultaneously having their budgets slashed.
The way I see it, one of two things would happen if this were to go through:
1) Every child would eat a hot meal but the amount of resources and levels of staff would decrease, resulting in a lower quality of overall education. The children would be nutritionally full but academically starving.
2) The staffing and education budget would remain the same and the food would be cheaper. And for ‘cheaper’ read ‘substandard.’ So we’d have malnourished children.
But what do you think? Is there an easy solution to this? No-one could have predicted a global pandemic followed by a war resulting in a cost of living crisis that looks like it will rival the 70s (so I’m told, I wasn’t alive then), but could things have been put in place before that would have mitigated our current situation? Are things as bad as they seem? Do children really need to eat all that much during the day? Let me know, I’d be keen to hear your thoughts.
Half of School Leaders Back Union Strike Action
In other news, the Association of School and College Leaders are considering strike action. Now, don’t get too excited, it’ll probably come to nothing. This information is based on a survey in which 69% of those who responded suggested that they would consider industrial action. There’s a lot of weakness in that statement.
First of all, how many people responded to the survey? Well, we can look that up… 2,203. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, there are 32,028 schools registered in the UK, so 2,203 is a mere 7% (and I’m rounding up). So, while seven-in-ten Headteachers have agreed to consider a strike, this is the voice of only 7 out of every hundred across the country. See how statistics can twist things?
And it’s not even that. 7-in -10 agreed to withdrawing from certain tasks (action short of striking); only 5-in-10 agreed to actually downing tools and walking out. And who can blame them? There’s a cost of living crisis going on and teachers have received a real-term loss in pay (as have many other professions) AND the pound is weaker than it’s been for ages. You might not know this - I didn’t when I had just started out and the NUT decided to strike - when you go on strike, you don’t get paid!
And what did that strike back in 2008, again, over pay, achieve? Nothing. Governments only care about schools when they’re in opposition because it plays well to the crowds. When they’re in power, I don’t care who they are or how they’re affiliated; they can be right wing, left wing, centrist, chicken wing, it doesn’t matter, when they’re in power, they couldn’t care less about education for two reasons:
Generally speaking, teachers are vocational martyrs, sacrificing their own wellbeing for that of the children they teach.
Education is a long game and politics isn’t. It takes at least 7 years to see any kind of result of education reform. A government term is only 5. It serves them no purpose to prioritise education unless they are clamouring for votes.
So, I don’t think this strike is going to happen. At the very most, some schools, probably colleges and universities, will refuse to set homework for a week. But I could be wrong. Are you one of those who were balleted? Did you vote to strike? What would it take for you to forgo payment for a week and make a stand? Let me know, I’m all ears.
Teachers are shrinking
Not really, of course, that would be silly. No, it’s the pool of potential teachers that is shrinking, and not just here in the UK. In America, the number of students completing a teacher training course has fallen by 29% over the past ten years.
Over there, the theories behind this lack of qualified teachers include COVID-reltated changed making the profession less enjoyable and more stressful; book bans and culture wars making teaching too political; a decline in respect for teachers in general making it an unappealing prospective carree; salaries being too low; the barrier for entry being too high; and people simply not seeing teaching as a more viable option than Computer Science or Business Studies.
That’s America though, what about here? Why are fewer teachers qualifying over here? Well, that’s a much clearer picture. The government have closed teacher training colleges and programmes! Twenty-five percent of them! That leaves fewer than 250 places where you can go to train to be a teacher.
According to TES.com, roughly a quarter of the teacher training market has effectively been shut down, leading to ‘teacher deserts’ and, somewhat confusingly, ‘educational cold zones’. Far be it from me to criticise mixing a metaphor but this is the sort of lit fuse that could snowball quickly.
But don’t panic, it’s only the Midlands and the North of England that’s in any real danger. The South is fine. And realistically, what do the North want with an education? They’ve got the mines… oh wait.
Kidding aside, what worries me is that the expert advisory group, the people who suggest which teacher training facilities should be allowed to train, are 75% academy trust high-ups (one CEO, and two Curriculum Designers); they’re also exclusively men. It just feels… icky. I’m sure this recent cull of teacher training facilities has been conducted with nothing but the benefit of the children in mind. It’s got nothing to do with pushing the government’s agenda for every school to be a CEO-controlled massive multi-academy trust where education is second only to the mighty pound. No, it wouldn’t be that, would it? It’s bound to be about levelling up.
That’s it for the week’s news round-up. If you know of a story that I’ve missed, let me know; if you think I’ve got the wrong end of the stick about any of these issues, let me know; if you like this new approach, sort of news digest, is good; let me know. Basically, speak to me, please! It gets lonely in this booth…!