2017 was a turbulent year for education to say the least. The sector experienced a rising teacher recruitment and retention crisis, delays in the numbers of education, health and care (EHC) plan assessments on children, concerning budget constraints, a rise in mental health problems among students and teachers, not to mention the GCSE and A-Level reforms.
Over 2,000 school leaders and governors from mainstream schools in England shared their views on the current state of education in a report by The Key which revealed that:
• 91 per cent of school leaders think that the level of pressure on schools from school performance measures has increased in the last two years
• 79 per cent of school leaders have seen an increase in stress, anxiety or panic attacks among pupils over the past two years
• 51 per cent of school leaders expect budget pressures or lack of funding to be their biggest challenge over the next academic year
It’s clear that something has got to give; there are already signs that the current system is having a negative impact on student wellbeing. With a greater focus on exam-measured success, 83 per cent of school leaders are already witnessing signs of mental health issues increasing among students.
But it’s not just students that are having to deal with the challenges lying ahead. Both primary and secondary schools are increasingly having to make difficult decisions in order to cut costs and make savings, including reducing the number of support staff and teaching staff, investing less in teacher CPD and offering a narrower curriculum offer.
This is far from ideal. While it might create financial savings, it will be at the detriment of something else, for instance, performance, workloads or wellbeing.
Sadly, school leaders believe that the top three key challenges that will continue to face the sector over the coming year are, unsurprisingly, budget pressures and school funding, teacher workloads and recruitment and retention.
How is the government helping?
With Damien Hinds’ recent appointment as secretary of state for education, his first big speech at the Education World Forum on 22 January, very much focused on the need to prepare pupils for the workplace of the future. And while he spoke about the importance of qualifications and exams, he stated that “there is much outside the relevant qualifications which matters a great deal as well.” The ethos of the school was of particular importance he believed, as “what happens in sport, public speaking, voluntary work and so on will have an effect on character and resilience”.
There was a heavy emphasis on the role technology can play in order to facilitate more effective ways of tracking and monitoring student progress, ease teacher workloads and introduce new ways of learning without impacting the important role of teachers.
Part of his speech also addressed raising education standards by supporting underperforming schools and offering young people more opportunities to make the best of their lives.
As part of this, more than £45 million will be given to over 400 successful multi-academy trusts (MATs) in a bid to help tackle underperformance and improve schools in areas that lack capacity, as well as 75 projects sharing £25 million to provide more support for schools in improving things like children’s literacy and numeracy skills.
According to government records, since 2010, 1.9 million more children are now in schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ and England’s pupils are now amongst the world’s best readers with GCSE and A-Levels reformed to match the best education systems in the world. So while it appears that a shift has slowly started, and with the Department for Education finally revealing each ministers’ responsibilities, we seem to have reached a tipping point. We wait in anticipation to see whether the government’s efforts really will help ease the mounting pressures schools face in 2018.