Who would have though staff in grammar schools would consider strike action? After events in Lincolnshire earlier this year, it is now apparently the turn of grammar schools in Kent to discover that teachers can talk of strike action. According to the Kentnews.co.uk website http://www.kentnews.co.uk/news/strike_plans_at_three_grammar_schools_including_cranbrook_school_1_4543745 as many as three grammar schools in the county have staff considering industrial action. There seem to be two distinct issues; academy status and sixth form funding. The first issue is one all schools face, and it is difficult to see how staff at any one school can do anything more than delay the inevitable if the government still really wants a school system comprised entirely of academies. I suppose they could resign on-mass and take their skills elsewhere, perhaps into a free school working closely with the County Council.
The issue of sixth form funding is an important one for grammar schools, as it is for any school with a large sixth form. If the whole of Year 11 already transfer to the sixth form then there is little opportunity to increase the size of the sixth form except by attracting pupils from other schools, possibly to their detriment. At present, although pupil numbers are rising rapidly among the younger age groups, numbers are still falling among the oldest age groups in schools putting pressure on income from this age group.
Smaller numbers, plus a savage cut in the unit of funding, doesn’t make for a happy environment. School leaders have had to remove uneconomic subjects and increase group sizes with the resulting larger workloads in marking for teachers. And ‘A’ level marking has never been just a matter of ticking boxes. Thus, even where there is a teacher shortage nationally, there are tales of redundancies as a result of the pressure on the unit of funding alongside the increase in National Insurance and pension contributions.
Grammar schools generally don’t have many pupils with either an SEN background of eligible for free school meals. They might want to ponder whether working with local primary schools could help attract more pupils with these backgrounds that also bring more cash than other pupils. Perhaps a ‘fostering for grammar’ campaign in Kent might help more children in care enter selective schools. In Kent, there is also the un-accompanied young asylum seekers group of young people. In my experience many that take this perilous route are keen to achieve. Grammar Schools might want to see whether a first steps course for such individuals could pay dividends.
Essentially, in this market-driven world of education, being business minded can help overcome government policies that adversely affect a school. The alternative is just to implement the cuts and face the consequences.
Of course, in the past, collaboration between schools helped save minority subjects and allowed a broader curriculum to be available. When I was a sixth former, more years ago than I care to recall, the local girls’ school didn’t offer Chemistry at ‘A’ level and those that wanted to study it came to our school. Such collaboration needs a system working for the benefits of all, not the satisfaction of some.