Reflections on 2017

This has been an interesting year in education. 2017 started with great anxiety over the proposed new common funding formula for schools. The government’s original version left many rural and small schools out of pocket and losing actual cash. The revised version just left them out of pocket. Indeed, from government data released in December, it seems secondary schools have been dipping into their reserves for the past three years; many primary schools are now having to do so as well.

The other key topic of interest a year ago, the creation of new selective schools, has fallen victim to the unexpected outcome of the general election. Apart from Brexit, it seems any contentious reform is not now being contemplated.

Selection as a topic has been replaced by social mobility as the key goal of government. Unfortunately for many areas, the funds are largely being targeted at key ‘opportunity areas’ that look suspiciously like the Education Action Zones once championed by the Blair government in the 1990s. Smaller pockets of deprivation, as can be found in many parts of the country, seem less likely to attract much if any additional funding above the Pupil Premium and free school meals.

There are worrying signs, including in the Report of the Chief Inspector, that some schools may be actually frustrating social mobility by offering challenging pupils the opportunity to be home educated or on a reduced timetable. Many of the parents do not have the background to challenge these decisions that can blight a child’s possible future almost as much as the alternative of a permanent exclusion.

Although there have been changes in the junior ministerial ranks, the Secretary of State has served throughout the year and is now approaching the point in her tenure when she is in the zone where many politicians find themselves either changing jobs or being removed from office in a reshuffle.

Teacher workload, pay and recruitment have once again dominated the teacher associations concerns during the year that has also seen the creation of a new association, with the coming together of the NUT and ATL.

The dead hand of the revolution initiated by Mr Gove, when he was Secretary of State, still affects schools, especially in the design of the curriculum and examinations where reforms take several years to reach full implementation.

The most worrying outcome of 2017 for schools was that following the general election spat between Labour and the Tories over university tuition fees, some £800 million appeared in the budget Red Book for student fee initiatives. That’s money that could have been spent in schools, FE or early years now diverted to the already most highly funded part of our education system.

So, what of 2018? Might we see a resolution of the academy and maintained school divide? Will the DfE really launch a free vacancy service in time for September 2018 and what will be the response of existing players if they do? How will the DfE save money to pay for social mobility programmes?

Above all, will the teacher supply crisis reach its zenith in 2018 and will the depressing numbers entering teacher preparation courses in September 2017, coupled with increases in school rolls, create a real sense of urgency to do something about the problem?  Perhaps the pressure on school budgets will finally mean secondary schools are really forced to cut teaching posts and the shortage of trainees won’t matter. Time will tell.

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