By a strange quirk of fate I had a meeting in Portcullis House at 6pm on Tuesday. While the Palace of Westminster itself may have been buzzing with excitement, across the road the parliamentary estate was emptier than I have ever seen it on a day when parliament was sitting. Apart from the security team and catering staff looking for customers, the building was largely deserted.
Still, the meeting will allow me to say if asked where were you when the historic vote took place that I was at Westminster. It will join those other two historic ’where were you’ moments’ in my life – JFK’s assassination – at a church sale of work – and the demolition of the Berlin Wall – on the Friday morning telling a group of Year 1 BEd students that they should always remember where they were when they heard the news that the Wall had fallen.
However, the object of this post is really to consider the report today that surveyors and estate agents are gloomier about the housing market over the next three months than at any time for 20 years, albeit due to uncertainty over Brexit.
If the housing market does lock up over the next three months, then there will be implications for schools, given that so much of their income is tied to pupil numbers these days. Some schools may benefit as they will keep pupils that might otherwise have left for pastures new, but if turnover in the housing market really slows down, then there will be losers as households with grown up children stay put and are not replaced by new young families looking for school places.
Some developers may find sales on new estates slow down, and the new school being built will be faced with the choice of either opening with fewer pupils this September or deferring opening for another year and thus helping increase pupil numbers at other local schools. As all such schools are either academies or free schools of one variety of another, it only impacts on local authorities in terms of their ability to manage the overall provision of schooling in their area, something government hasn’t been overly concerned with in recent years.
Of course, we might see some extra spending on marketing and publicity as schools seek to fill empty places using cash better spent on teaching and learning. Ever since the doctrine of parental choice came into being after 1979, the idea of glossier brochures, open days and league tables has come to dominate the annual round of school selection.
Should the DfE follow up on its new free vacancy site by designing a free marketing portal for schools to reduce the cost to schools of recruiting pupils? The DfE could then ban excessive spending by individual schools. However, it would also have to stop practices such as providing free buses for pupils from some locations, something parents would not welcome.
Then there is the other side of ‘staying put’. What might teachers decide to do in the present circumstances. Will they stay as well or will they go, perhaps overseas in even greater numbers?