The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Sue Birchall

The May education philosophy and the SBM

The start of the new school year again brings fresh announcements from the government on the direction of education. The prime minister, Theresa May, announced her wish to increase access to grammar school education for our young people.

Theresa May's ideas of a meritocratic education system based purely on merit and ability seems to suggest a complete u-turn from the previous government’s policies.

As Mark Twain famously said, ‘no idea is a new idea’.

Those of us that live and work in counties such as Kent are very used to the grammar school system. If you asked parents, their view would probably be coloured by school location and how well their child or children ‘fit into’ the system.

In its present form, selective education is certainly not purely available based on merit and ability.

Good education should be accessible to all regardless of wealth, locality or creed

As someone with an opinion and a stake in the education system in this country, I find myself a little perturbed.

I have observed the numerous changes various governments have imposed upon our working practices, sometimes with enthusiasm and sometimes with feelings very close to despair.

I’ve always felt that, to varying degrees, the changes have supported the ultimate aim to make good education accessible to all regardless of wealth, locality or creed. This new edict from the policy makers does not feel like that.

Meeting changing needs

As a victim of the current system, with three sons who developed academically at different stages, I recognise the need for education to be able to differentiate and meet the changing needs of students as overarching.

I believe I have been working in a system that strives to provide that in every school. In fact, the academisation agenda was marketed to us as the key way to make that happen, is this no longer the case?

Only as far back as March this year the government published the ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ white paper which outlined the plan for all schools to become academies and improvements to be school led.

Are we in danger of jeopardising something that hasn’t even had the time to properly embed itself let alone make the significant improvements that are demanded of it?

And for the SBM

What will this mean for the school business management profession? Will it have a significant impact on our day to day life and practises? In my view that very much depends on what form it eventually takes.

In the format that Theresa May presents it, before it makes its merry way through parliament and the House of Lords where it is likely to meet a lot of opposition, it could.

As SBM professionals we recognise that budgets are shrinking. The finite pot of money invested by the government means a reducing budget year on year. The announcement by Justine Greening about the new funding formula adds to our woes.

The pressures of existing inequalities in funding (which admittedly benefit some of us) along with the reducing income per student could not bear further pressure in more competition for student places.

The suggestion that more free schools could be created to meet the vision and existing schools encouraged to convert, is frankly, a little scary.

As an SBM you will have your own views about the free school system but schools being built and financed without the usual process of assessing need for places in the area can only draw funding away from existing provision.

Consistency in direction

Many would argue that this would mean that schools and academies would have to improve their outcomes to attract pupils.

Those who work in the education sector know that this is not a quick fix and to suffer financially through the transition would hamper outcomes.

Professionals in the education sector strive to achieve the aims of the white paper, to provide excellent education for all. What is needed is some consistency in policy direction, support and time to make it work.

I watch with baited breath.

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