Monday, 11 May 2015

A Letter To Our Prime Minister

Dear Mr Cameron, Try a little Tenderness. 

As you form a new government you may find a letter in the Department for Education offices: “Sorry, Schools have no money left.” 

Your civil servants will tell you the detail of how a school like mine needs to find £500,000 in savings on an income of just under £6,000,000 in each of the next three years.
  • Your government cut 16% off our 6th form funding (around £500 per student) at a time when you said education funding was “ring-fenced.”
  • We have to put an extra 2.38% into teachers’ pensions.
  • The government has taken away a National Insurance rebate of 3.4% and looks likely to award the 1.3 million school employees a 1 or 2% unfunded pay rise.
  • This adds up to a 7.26% increase in our wage costs and wages makes up around 80% of school spending.
  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies shows a 12% cut in funding during your second term.
Your reappointed chancellor will tell you that any business where costs outstrip income could pass on some or all of the increased costs to the consumer. Tony Little, the head of your old school, Eton, has said that families on £80,000 can no longer afford boarding school as fees have risen at four times the rate of other goods and services. Most of our parents do not earn £80,000 and we cannot charge for education in state schools. We can’t pass on costs.
Mr Osborne will say that we should reduce costs and ex minister David Laws said we should reduce back office costs.
  • If we cut half our office staff we could save £160,000
  • stopped all spending on our school library and dismissed the librarian £35,000
  • reduced our caretaking staff to one person £23,000
  • and stopped cleaning the toilets so often £7,500,
  • saved 50% on our gas and electricity bills £45,000
  • stopped absolutely all staff training £27,933
  • Sacked 7 teaching assistants £200,000
We would save the £500,000.

The following year, in our dark, smelly, cold school, we could cut all building and grounds maintenance and cleaning; cut all individual support in English and Maths and abandon all extra curricular activities. We will need to sack 6 teachers and would have saved the £500,000. Class sizes will increase to 35 in many lessons. Teachers will teach 5% more lessons.

In Year 3 we find £500,000 by dismissing 10 heads of department and a deputy headteacher. Class size is now over 40 everywhere and we have unqualified, cheaper, staff “teaching” all core subjects.

Schools are cutting Art, Drama and Technology to reduce costs and allow the children to study more Maths, English and Science. It is vital that we get the basics right but we are heading to a Brave New World of dull repetitive, test dominated, rote learning for the mass of our children in state schools. Creativity will be confined to parent led weekend and evening privately paid for activities. We are a creative people, music and media exports show our talent. Please don’t restrict a broad education to those with wealth. And let’s all beware of bored children in our schools and society.

There’s two linked aspects I ask you to look at, prime minister:

We have had spontaneous, sometimes backdated, disjointed curriculum innovation during your last term in office. Mr Gove, your Secretary of State, was on a mission and we have struggled to keep up.
Let’s have a period of calm, to embed his initiatives. I know that your latest minister, Nicky Morgan wants politicians to remain in charge of the curriculum but she should do this with an advisory body that includes teachers. The best change is considered and measured, thoughtful and then decisive.

You’ve said there will be no major tax increases for 5 years; how about no major curriculum changes for five years?

Do away with league tables. Gove believed that testing equals learning, so we now have a concoction of disconnected assessment procedures. Testing children in English and Maths at age 4 to judge their progress at age 7, and to publish that progress in league tables, may have us hunting around for some really difficult tests to administer to 4 year olds, with a scowl on a winter’s afternoon in our darkened, cold classrooms. These tests will not help children progress. Why not trust reception and Year 1 teachers to assess what these very young children can do by observing and working with them?

SATs at age 11 now mean that kids of all abilities are practising, practising and practising tests whose sole purpose is to praise in league tables schools with the brightest kids, and to condemn those schools with a lower ability intake.” Glenys Stacey at OFQUAL explains that the new GCSEs cannot be compared with any other year because of “volatility.”

Mr Cameron, get someone who understands to look at an assessment system that encourages and rewards learning. Exam data is not the same as standards in education. Would you believe that schools who take in the lowest ability children are penalized for this in DfE statistics and by Ofsted?. It’s a bit like your beloved Aston Villa starting each football season with -20 points whilst big spending Chelsea start with +20 before a ball has been kicked.

Many schools are driven by the fear of Ofsted and the domination of data in their judgements.
Our “Good” school had one white working class boy, from a single parent family, on free school meals, with low scores from junior school and a history of trouble in his head, his home and his behavior. He negatively affected 11 different Ofsted figures. Maybe we should have shot him, rather than try to include and teach him.

There’s lots more to tell you, Prime Minister, but make a start somewhere. You can help every school to be a good school and every child to have a chance to excel.

Mr Cameron, we are scared
Because you didn't mention money in a national financial crisis in education.
We are fearful
Because you promised major education reform “within 50” days
We are demoralised
Because we have the best teachers and the best teaching in the last 40 years and you may not recognize this.
We are despondent
Because we fear a Secretary of State wanting to forge an ideological legacy for himself
Because you named all your major ministers yesterday but not the education one, it seems our role in society doesn’t matter to you
Because we dread you bringing back Michael Gove to insult us again.

Please leave the passion to teachers in their classrooms and give us thoughtful, knowledgeable, experienced people leading education in your cabinet.

We don't know that you value us at all
So show a little care,
A little love,
Take your time,
Woo us and treat us with respect.
You can help us get better.
Otherwise damn us

And sod the children

Dennis O'Sullivan (Headteacher)


  1. Please clarify. Are you saying that central government is requiring you to cut £500,000 the first year, £1,000,000 the second year, and £1,500,000 the third year. That seems to be the only way to make sense of your post.

    1. If we cut £500,000 in year one, we will lose the jobs and other resources and they will not be there the second year. However, income reduces and wages become an ever greater part of our expenditure. We will need a further £500,000 savings in year two and a further series of cuts in Year three. The cumulative effect will add up over those three years to (approximately) £1.5million .

  2. Are you saying that the central government is requiring you to make £500,000 of NEW cuts each year for three years so that by the end of the third year total expenditure would be reduced to £4,500,000?

  3. Mark, I have replied to your questions on the pages where I think the debate is a little more mature than that on the TES community page.
    Here's the bottom line for my school:
    2017-18 Total income £5,469,228 and Expenditure £6,489,756.
    The blog above is the widest read I have written (of 34) and the widest circulated and I think this is because of the simplicity of the situation - schools are shafted by measures beyond our control. Our only solutions are to declare a deficit budget, in which case all our recruitment/procurement/cheque paying powers are taken over by the EFA or to make severe cuts in teaching staff employed.
    To the point elsewhere that the cuts we make in the first year will be automatically carried into the 2nd year is true if it is the removal of staff. I guess kids will get used to bringing their own toilet paper in Year 2 and we will all get used to the perpetual grey seen through uncleaned windows. Such things as maintenance and decoration and departments' capitation will need to be cut anew each year.
    Watch out for the year of Education Armageddon;2017 when so many heads will be leaving.

  4. You say 80% of outgoings is gross employee costs. You say the starting budget is £6mn. That's £4.8mn p.a. gross wage bill. If each member of staff costs ~£40k gross (assistants less, senior teachers more) that's 120 members of staff. What are all these people doing? In my school we had 6 classes per year, and 7 years. If you have 2 employees per class then that's 84 + 36 admin staff. Surely you don't need that many people to run a school!?!

  5. Robin
    Thanks for your comment.
    Schools are businesses and subject to all the costs and obligations of a company with employees and 1000+ young people on site everyday.
    We clean the school every evening and have a cleaner cleaning the toilets throughout the day.
    We feed the children everyday and, in our very good canteen, we cook food as well as buy in pre prpared produce.
    We have 2 caretakers and are, of course, open up to 15 hours a day, weekdays, and much of Saturday so we need on-site cretakers.
    As an academy we have very demanding financial responsibilities because we are an independent company, registered appropriately. One Finance Manager and 2 finance assistants is not unusual for a school, where every parent is regularly engaged in some cash/cheque/on line payment.
    19% of childrn in the UK have special educational needs and some of these are quite severe. One of my previous blogs is an open letter on SEN and gives a great deal of information on this. We have a dozen teaching assistants and a SENCO, the latter being a legal requiremnt in all state schools.
    Your school would have had techicians in Science and, if you had it, Technology. We have 4 technicians.
    We have a librarian to run the library.
    I hope that adds up.
    We have benchmarking charts that show our school is below average on our spending in every one of the areas I have listed, including the teaching costs as we have a brilliant and young teaching staff.
    We have a small management team, again cheaper than the comparisons show.

    Dennis O'Sullivan

  6. Thx for the thorough reply Dennis. I find this really interesting. It doesn't seem to quite stack-up though from my albeit vague estimates. I already factored in 1 teacher + 1 teaching assistant per class. The remaining full-time posts are:
    2 cleaners
    4 canteen staff
    2 caretakers
    3 finance
    4 technicians
    1 librarian
    That's only 16 staff who aren't teachers/assistants. If we throw in you, a secretary, and a couple of spares, we're still only at 20 staff, no where near the 36 I originally estimated.

    I appreciate you may have 4 cleaners for a large school, but cleaning in the evening is only a part-time job, so is equivalent to 2 full time. And it can't require 1 dedicated person to clean the toilets during the day.

    From this perspective, and coupled with my generous £40kpa gross cost per employee, the reductions seem manageable.


  7. Sorry, Robin , I will have to ask you to look elsewhere for your information. We have 2 receptionists and knowledge of a working school would show you that even schools half our size operate with 2 or more of these very valuable people.
    Have you seen the mass of MIS and DfE data we manage on an hourly basis? One secretary becomes 2.
    You must realise that we are a school and deal with children and parents who need us.
    I have 8 cleaners and, again, with 6 canteen staff, I have to ask you to look at schools as they are today rather than when they were LA schools. It is important to me that the school is clean for the students and that the food is good. I have literally just finished a wonderful Chinese Day lunch.
    I thik it is possible to look up the costings for any secondary school via the DfE performance tables website.
    Oh, and we no longer have blackboards or hard paper in the toilets. I am sure our Network manager with outr 500+ computers appreciates both.
    This blog has reached 3,000 people, many of them headteachers. The essence is not to be found in on line analysis of our budget, but in the dire state of school finances across the UK.
    PS In 4 years time our staffing costs become 101% of our income.

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