Christmas time in schools is not like the idealistic, romanticised versions portrayed in the supermarket adverts or latest Disney film. December is a dark, bleak month where the worst excesses of humanity, often alcohol fuelled, surface and the beleaguered Children’s Services receive numerous frantic calls to try to protect and shield children from the threat of men; often these are boys who were not ready to be fathers. Despite falling budgets, schools cannot give-up and it feels very much as though we are holding back a fragile frontline, protecting the most vulnerable in our society.
Unsurprisingly, my school’s health profile 2016 made for depressing reading with students living in deprived households where there is significant excesses in binge drinking, smoking and under 25s admitted to hospital with mental health issues. Yet, our persistent absence and exclusion statistics and those who have received three vaccinations is significantly positive in comparison to other Worcestershire schools. In other words, my remarkable pastoral team control, support and parent our students and ensure that school is a safe place where generally they trust us and want to attend and we can even do the vaccinations – all of this needs to be done and used to be done by the parents!! This is an extraordinary achievement, yet I fear I am pushing more onto these remarkable, often underpaid people. Expectations are frequently unrealistic and the pressure to do something does cause sleepless nights.
Worcestershire sexual assaults have risen by 154% to an unpalatable 11,000 compared to 5,662 in 2014. Worcestershire’s answer to this 154% rise is to cancel sexual health counselling! Children and Mental Health Services now have an unacceptable waiting list of eight months and the school now faces a cut in the Educational Services Grant (ESG) by £98.00 per pupil equalling to £100,000 plus in our school. This is the grant I pay for these extra services with:
- The School Councillor, who saw over 60 critical students and staff last year.
- The Safeguarding Officer, who spent last week on the riverbank talking down a serious suicide attempt and counselling the distraught parents.
- The Pastoral Support Officer, who was recently at the home of a drug addict, checking on the welfare of mother and son with cannabis openly smoked and seemingly an acceptable drug to the alternatives.
- The Education Welfare Officer, who met with a mother with mental health issues to try to ascertain whether she was likely to harm herself or those she was in charge of – she was sectioned!
All these key staff provide invaluable expertise and support that is difficult to measure in league tables or with questionable data – but they would be massively missed if removed and this could be considered as being life threatening for those families who are our most vulnerable. I think I have and do teach values that are intrinsically British but it is arguable whether a Government that wants to place children of illegal immigrants at the bottom of a list for school places, the latest leaked Cabinet papers, should be followed or listened to! Is an inclusive education for all our children really valued? When the continued educational messages measurement of success is that:
- Student progress is measured only by flawed exam data.
- The reintegration of grammar schools, the provision of the elite, the traditional, the 1970s, is seen as necessary not a waste of money and will be brought in whatever the profession or data produces as evidence.
- Big is beautiful: big multiple academies, big salaries for questionable unqualified CEOs, big unfulfilled promises for those in education, education, education!
I therefore try to promote British values of tolerance and thoughtfulness. This is a difficult mood to capture in December with crushing financial debts looming and asking my staff to take on so many different unpaid, thankless roles to try to maintain a community that is in desperate need of support. One in five families had a Christmas feast provided by a food bank! This is an educational and societal crisis that needs addressing now with significant investment. Failure to do so will see extremism making headway with the significant home schooled children particularly open to being groomed by unscrupulous, extreme ideologies. Furthermore, our SEN children are being excluded not included as they are seen as a ‘drain’ on the points scored for the infamous league table or progress chart. Add in the recruitment crisis and you can see why certain schools are left isolated, untouched by MATs/new teachers.
I have been Headteacher for 13 years and 2017 is the year I have approached under the most pressure, the most unsure and the most determined to ‘not have it’. This is ludicrous and whilst we keep working at this ridiculous pace we do not protest at the daily educational messages that are not British, are intolerant, and I would suggest undemocratic! To do nothing is not an option and where possible I intend to prick the pomposity of those whose educational vision would appear to be cemented in the claustrophobic, stereotypical confines of an exam hall; this will provide a success or failure judgement based on a grade (or is it a level?) simply on academic exam performance not your personal quality, your nature, your ability to respect what a fabulous society/community we could live in if we open our eyes and are allowed to look and value – possibly the true purpose of being British! Schools and governments have to look beyond the grades and produce fully functioning human beings who happen to pass a few exams. Now there is a Christmas message to toast to!