One of the advantages of not being a politician is that you can smugly roll your eyes and shake your head whenever one of them announces something stupid. Things like announcing how a new wave of selective schools will benefit ‘ordinary’ families. As soon as Justine Greening said this there were people, up and down the land, looking up at the heavens thinking but that doesn’t make any sense!
Firstly, they thought, isn’t the whole point of these schools about selecting children based on academic ability? Some poor children, they assumed, would pass the test enabling them to rise above their ranks as they pursue a life of academia, but surely academic selection shouldn’t be about giving everybody in society an even chance? Then, they considered, the possible implication of allowing ‘ordinary’ families into these new schools in the first place. Wasn’t the reason they voted for the Tories because of the chance to finally get their children away from the ‘ordinary’ boys and girls who don’t want to learn? Finally, they feared, how would this affect house prices?
Now, I get why some people like the idea of grammar schools. I understand the value they place on being able to access a higher level of education (because comprehensives hate all that) and that they simply want their child’s education to be uncomplicated by having to co-exist with different people (because I think we can all agree that nothing good ever came from mixing up the social classes). I hear their argument at dinner parties about how they just want a better option of schools for everyone but I can also see into their cold black hearts that only care about their own child.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. And, if there’s a market, the government will sell. If there’s a need, they don’t always give a toss, but where there’s a vote, they’ll give it a go. How odd then that this new grammar policy won’t really appeal to anyone. I would have thought – and bear in mind I am but a simple-minded headteacher – that just creating more schools would have been a better gambit rather than set up a particular type of school, that has a particular appeal, and water it down in the vein hope that it appears more socially palatable. But what do I know?
Concern about the unselective quality of new grammar schools was not, however, why I rolled my eyes and shook my head when I read Greening’s new announcement. I was more concerned with the state of things in the current education climate and how opening a raft of grammar schools will not help a damn bit.
I’ll be brief.
Our budgets are knackered and the services, that schools can access, to help support vulnerable families are vanishing.
Now, I wouldn’t mind taking a massive scythe to my school budget if it meant the saved money was being ploughed back into essential services. I would happily sack, pretty much anyone, if it guaranteed help for damaged children. The reason I would be so slash-happy is because these services are needed and when they are accessed they make my job of educating much easier.
To put it into context. In Bristol, the SEND budget across the city is becoming increasingly non-existent. Thresholds are rising as the amount of money for each band falls. Early Help, that provides vital support for vulnerable families on the brink of getting into real trouble, are going. In the South of Bristol alone this means that the local authority’s capacity to support these families will fall from above 120 families to just under 60. Social Care is gradually being eroded away to its bare bones. I know of a child who since being placed in care has not been assigned a permanent social worker for 6 months. (Guess how they’re doing?) Behaviour improvement services have vanished. Funding for more specialist provision is being denied: a new setting for children at risk of permanent exclusion but do not yet have an EHCP is now not going ahead.
What is the impact of all this?
Your job, dear teacher, is going to get harder. Why? Because these troubled children and families still exist. And, instead of being able to access the support they need it will be up to you to deal with it. You could just permanently exclude them. But just remember that could be exactly what the school down the road is doing. You may get rid of one troublesome toe-rag but pretty soon you’ll be invited to attend a Fair Access Panel where you will likely end up with another one. So, you’ll just have to accept these kids as part of your daily grind. Many of you, I know, already have. Those teachers who don’t fancy that could always go to work in the new grammar school. (Although, apparently, these schools will be filled with similar children…yeah right!)
Do I mind that teaching is harder when classes are filled with difficult and damaged children? No, of course not. What I do mind is that I can’t help. I can’t access vital support services because they are disappearing fast. I can’t give the children what they need. Therefore, when I find out that funding for existing schools is being reduced whilst the government is financially propping up failing free schools and chucking cash at re-introducing a selective system of education that hardly anybody bloody wants, I get cross.
I get filled with rage at the short-sightedness of the current regime. I want to take every education minister and advisor along with every narrow-minded educationalist who thinks these problems shouldn’t be part of a teacher’s job because they only came into this profession to teach and chuck them into a school with all these children who have nowhere else to go and say: ‘There you go, you’ve got naff all support, get them to the expected standard.’ And when they complain saying that it’s too hard, I will simply double lock their classroom door and say ‘Sorry, this is what it’s like now. Crack on!’
Because, like it or not, these are ‘ordinary’ children from ‘ordinary’ families and building new schools who may not have to take them in does not mean they disappear. Preventing them from getting help will not make society a better place. Denying them social support will not improve their education.
Ignoring these problems is a national disgrace.
Eyes rolled, head shaken. I’ll be quiet now.