I was a teacher from September 1980 until August 2017, with two short breaks for maternity leave. Despite moving up though the ranks, becoming a Head in 2014, I never stopped teaching, with the quest for outstanding teaching and learning being my passion. In many ways, the 9 years I spent as an AST were the most fulfilling, but I succumbed to headship because I wanted to influence T&L across a whole school; I adopted Steve Covey’s, ‘The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing’, with T&L being that ‘main thing’.
Unfortunately, as soon as I picked up the reins, I could see that the school was heading towards financial difficulties in the next academic year, due to cuts in funding and rising costs. Many may not know this, but a stand-alone Academy cannot submit a deficit budget without the threat of being put into financial special measures by the Education Funding Agency (EFA), so I had no choice but to take evasive action.
Whilst it was my strong belief that I should devote my time to leading T&L, I had to put the ‘main thing’ to one side and become a financial strategist, which is hardly what I trained for. Staffing is easily the biggest financial outlay of a school, so that is where I had to start. I wrote a 12-page ‘staffing restructure and deficit reduction plan’, which was no mean feat, and whilst its contents are lengthy and probably not interesting to many, I detail it below, because you need to be aware of just how many cuts I had to make, and how serious and unpalatable they were:
• The number of planning periods per teacher per cycle decreased by one
• The number of teaching groups in Years 7 and 8 decreased by one (thus larger classes)
• The ‘extra’ teaching groups in the core subjects in Years 10 and 11 removed
• The disapplication groups in Year 10, except for SEN pupils, removed
• VCert music removed as a GCSE option for Year 10
• Food technology removed as a GCSE option for Year 10 and removed from KS3
• AS French removed as an option for Year 12
• Art and photography taught together in Years 12 and 13
• Workskills Springboard removed from Year 12
• Departmental capitation reduced by approximately 10%
• CPD limited to training for the new exam specifications only
• Stationery ordered centrally, not by department
• Work experience removed for the majority of pupils in Year 11 (only remaining for the few who would really benefit)
• Business & Enterprise budget reduced
• Alternative curriculum reduced
• The equivalent of one full time post removed from the SLT team, and the portfolio distributed amongst the remaining SLT members
• One food technology teacher post removed
• All 4 Lead Practitioner posts removed
• The fourth post on the leadership spine not undertaking SLT responsibilities removed
• The number of TLR points per subject leader, and the number of non-contact periods per subject leader, to be based solely on the number of teaching periods delivered by the department (thus leading to a reduction)
• TLRs for Thinking skills, Data, Business & Enterprise and Work-related learning removed
• The TLR for Alternative Curriculum reduced from TLR 2 to TLR 1
• The TLR for Exams reduced from TLR 2 to TLR 1
• One science technician post removed
• One food technology technician post removed
• The administrative roles of 1) Cover/attendance, 2) First Aid/Administrator, and 3) Educational Visits Coordinator amalgamated into two roles
I cannot begin to explain how upsetting and disagreeable I found these changes to be; they amounted to a saving of approximately £410,000 and yet by the end of the following academic year, it was clear that we would have to cut more subjects at A-level and more staff, and that is when I decided I could not and would not go on. I felt that I would be condoning the government’s regime of underfunding if I continued to hack away at the curriculum and staffing still further, just to balance the books, especially as it struck me that it was likely to become an annual occurrence.
I was coming up to 60 when I reached ‘enough is enough’, and in that sense I was more in a position to ‘go’ than a Head in their 30’s or 40’s say, but I had been a single parent for 21 years by then, my two daughters were saddled with huge student debt (after completing 5 university courses between them), and I had an interest-only mortgage, meaning I would have to sell my house to pay it off, so my decision wasn’t without its complications.
But personally, it’s the emotional toll, not the financial one, that I feel most acutely. I ‘went’ at least 5 years too early, with so much left to give.