Schools North East Director Chris Zarraga and Deputy Director Pauline Aitchison were invited to sit on panels at this week’s Schools and Academies show, which attracts more than 7,000 delegates, including key ministers and policymakers. This provided an excellent opportunity to disseminate the key concerns and hopes of North East school leaders to a national audience.
Chris Zarraga spoke at the Great Expectations: Assessing the Relationship between Government and School Leaders event. He suggested that the relationship had definitely been damaged over the course of the pandemic, but that this had its roots in an increasingly micro-managed education environment built up over many years. Chris saw the deterioration in relationships during Covid as being unnecessary and a huge missed opportunity. Throughout the crisis, our schools have acted as the ‘Fourth Emergency Service’ and the government missed every opportunity to get that message across to the nation and ensure that our schools were given the recognition that they deserve for their outstanding efforts.
Furthermore, the extent of the burden that has been carried by school staff has not been fully recognised; with significant additional working hours and stress, especially on senior leaders being compounded by poor communication from government, late guidance, contradictory guidance, and numerous late u-turns. Chris argued that the government now had to re-set this vital relationship and take the earliest opportunity to establish key principles to underpin this relationship going forward, including: recognising the full context that our school staff are working in; respecting the professional abilities of our school leaders and ensuring they are properly consulted in all of their varied contexts before implementing policy; committing to evidence-based policymaking; and ensuring a joined-up approach from cabinet to chalk-face. Education needs to be at the top-table of the cabinet and not an ‘order-taker’ from other elements of government that do not have the expertise to’ make policy in a vacuum’.
Later in the day Pauline Aitchison was talking about The SEND Review and the Responsibilities of all School Leaders. She talked about the long awaited publication of the SEND review, which is due out ‘late spring’ and the need for a bottom-up approach to strategies for SEND ensuring the views of those on the front line are listened to. A clear national vision across mainstream and special schools is needed, with local context taken into account. She also raised binary designation and questioned if there needs to be a third designation taking into account additionally resourced provision, along with mainstream and special. On the question of asking if there is a cohesive plan for climbing out of the backlog of, and effectively handling future surges for demand of, EHCPs Pauline questioned how the system can recover from the £593m deficit coupled with the growing numbers of EHCPs coming through the system. LAs themselves are under-resourced to cope with demand but there needs to be a levelling up of funding that is consistent across all postcodes – every child deserves this. To forecast future demand a starting point needs to be health and education working in partnership to identify future trends and ensure appropriate funding is secured rather than looking at trends in historic spend.
The SAAS is a leading education event for schools, academies and MATs.