As I write this I should be packing for the school ski trip, that I’m still privileged to go on, and I can’t help but laugh about this sub-headline in The Telegraph: “The Chancellor will use his Budget to announce a new fund allowing a quarter of all schools in England to stay open later every day.”
The article follows that gem up by adding: “Thousands of schools will be able to open for an average of an hour longer a day in an end to the ‘Victorian’ tradition of the 3.30 pm bell.”
I try really hard – I do – not to belittle or mock announcements from whichever government we have (although this has been increasingly challenging over the last few years). It requires particular restraint, though, when it highlights just how out of touch with the reality of education they are.
I would love the Right Honourable George Osbourne MP to visit Passmores any time between 3.30 and 10pm – or indeed, just about any other school that I know of. Our day finishes with freshly baked cakes available for young people to eat in our communal ‘heart space’. This normally means we have about a hundred of them enjoying a chat after ‘work’.
Meanwhile, a few hundred others will be enjoying the opportunity to extend their school experience with activities as varied as gaining the Duke of Edinburgh Award to Rocket Club to choosing to spend more time improving their knowledge and skills in different subjects or attending homework club run by our prefects. Oh, and let’s not forget the range of sports clubs we offer. These will run up until about 5.30pm.
It’s not unusual
After that our school has a variety of community users that we negotiate deals with to allow our young people to attend at no cost or heavily discounted prices; the Kevin Adams Performing Arts Academy or HipHopPop street dance or Sumners Youth Football Club to name just three of the many great organisations that offer activities.
I don’t think that we are in any way exceptional in what we do, either. I know that all schools across the country offer similar opportunities; some of which are linked to curriculum areas and many that are things that we haven’t got time to squeeze in to the ‘normal’ day.
What I don’t really understand from the budget announcement, then, is why this has been seen, in some quarters, to be a new approach! I don’t think I’ve completely lost the plot when I mention the ‘extended schools’ funding that was in place under a previous administration. I’m not saying that was in any way perfect, but at least we all got a piece of the pie rather than one in four schools benefiting.
Balancing the priorities
Maybe I am viewing the funding the wrong way round. Perhaps what I should be saying is, in a time of chosen austerity we should be grateful that any money can be found to support the ‘non-compulsory’ aspects of school life. Thinking like this would help me be much less negative… but in truth, it is a bit of a stretch for me.
I have read with horror about schools cutting back on curriculum time for the ‘less important’ subjects; non-EBacc ones, basically. As much as I think that is the wrong way to go I understand the cycle of Ofsted courageousness; the closer you are to getting an inspection the more compliant you tend to become towards the national agenda rather than the much more important local community one. Increasing challenges mean that keeping a wide offer open to our students whilst providing the support needed for gaining a ‘good’ GCSE pass is getting harder; and therefore the natural reaction to give more and more time to fewer and fewer subjects is understandable to a degree.
As far as this proposed funding goes, then, I would like to see it focused on the schools that are not currently deemed to be good or outstanding, as much of the additional funding seems to be at the moment. If only one in four schools can get the financial support that’s promised, let’s hope the government makes the bidding process simple and targets it at establishments that Ofsted want to see improved. This may allow those schools to work with community organisations or their non-teaching staff to increase their extra-curricular offer without adding to the workload of teachers already under the extra pressures that come with being rated ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’.
About the author
Vic Goddard is head Teacher at Passmores Academy – as seen on Channel 4’s ‘Educating Essex’, and is the author of ‘The Best Job in the World’ (Independent Thinking Press,).