Mr Hammond’s ‘little extras’ won’t be enough for schools
IN THIS week’s budget, the Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a £400 million handout for schools — for “little extras”, as he put it, such as some laptops or whiteboards. It may be better than nothing but it hardly amounts to a windfall or an end to austerity for the education system.
Whatever the government has injected into education, the amount of spending per pupil has fallen by eight per cent since 2010, according to the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies. Schools remain under pressure to balance their books.
King David High School Manchester, for instance, has dropped A-level languages French as part of its cost-cutting measures after suffering a 30 per cent cut — £1.5 million — to its budget over six years. Increasingly, it has had to rely on parental support.
The voluntary contributions parents give to King David High and Primary School each term have risen from around £750,000 in 2012 to over £900,000 last year (net of Gift Aid).
Along with the financial challenges schools have their work cut out to retain teachers. According to a parliamentary briefing paper earlier this month, just under ten per cent of teachers quit the state system last year. More than one in five newly qualified teachers in 2015 were not working in state schools a couple of years later.
Marc Shoffren, headteacher of the cross-communal Alma Primary School in North-West London, says recruitment of staff can “feel an uphill battle —and more difficult than six to eight years years ago. Everyone is struggling to find the people we want.”
He heads a working group set up by Partnerships for Jewish Schools, the Jewish Leadership Council’s education division, to explore ways of attracting teachers to the Jewish school network.
Pay is “definitely an issue”, he said. In summer, the government promised a 3.5 per cent pay rise for the lowest earners, with rises of two or 1.5 per cent for higher paid teachers. But it is not yet clear whether that is a one-off settlement or whether “it’s going to be the case that teacher’s wages keep up with the cost of living,” Mr Shoffren said.
A new teacher in a state school in outer London might start off on an annual income of £27,600 — which goes a lot less further than it would have done a few years ago because of the high cost of housing in the capital.
“Young teachers struggle to live in London on the salaries they are paid,” Mr Shoffren said. “It’s hard to make ends meet.”
One idea being considered by his group is to make short promotional videos for social media extolling the benefits of working in the Jewish system.
A recent survey of staff in Jewish schools revealed that one of the pluses is working in an environment where families have a strong commitment to education. (Although that sometimes could have a downside — when over-pushy parents make too many demands).
Pajes has also introduced new educational leadership training schemes which can help teachers advance up the promotional ladder.
Still, that may not be enough. For communal leaders, the question remains: will Jewish schools need a bigger slice of the charity budget if they are going to maintain their high standards in future?