You only have to open your news app to read about child poverty in the UK. School Leaders see it every day and it is not limited to the inner cities or big estates, countryside poverty can be hidden in the blanket of a perceived “affluent” area.
I’ve lived in the English countryside all my life and went through a period of experiencing poverty first hand…not that I would have admitted it at the time.
In the mid-nineties, my husband (at the time) decided to retrain and become a teacher. He hadn’t been to university at the traditional time so was accepted onto a four year full time course. We had three children under five, rented an out-in-the-sticks farm estate cottage and I had a small part time job which covered the nursery fees. It was never going to be easy but we got by.
I sometimes look back on that time and wonder…How?
We had our families close by who often fed us and made sure the children didn’t want for Christmas presents. I kept chickens for a steady supply of eggs and I had a very good friend who was married to a baker and always offered us the days left over stock. We lived on bread and homemade cake!
It’s hard to explain to anyone what it was like. My children told me recently that they don’t remember wanting for anything and that it was a happy time. We went without a lot and we survived, but it wasn’t without consequence.
As a School Business Leader, I’ve been thinking about that time in my life a lot recently and comparing it to the education funding landscape we currently find ourselves in.
Yes, we’ll survive the funding shortfall. We’ll buy the cheap glue sticks, reduce printing, cut back on everything that is not a necessity and we’ll go without. Our community will help to ensure the children don’t miss out on some of the ‘jam’ of life and we’ll gratefully accept gifts, donations and support wherever we can find it.
But we won’t be able to put anything aside for when the roof springs to leak, or for when there is a leap forward in technology. We’ll stop being able to afford music lessons, science equipment, away matches, staff training and new books for the library. Those old buildings will continue to deteriorate and we’ll cross our fingers that the heating system will last one more year. Everything we buy will be justified on the narrowness of measurable educational impact – no more grounds upkeep, window frame painting rotas or playground marking.
Of course, the Government will tell you they plough millions of pounds into a school capital condition improvement fund and we can bid for money. Well, I put four bids in last year, all absolutely vital to ongoing Trust operations…all unsuccessful. Getting me to jump through hoops isn’t the answer, nor is arbitrarily approving bids that tick boxes without any local knowledge.
Expecting the current funding situation to continue without impact on outcomes for a generation of young people is a mistake. Especially this current generation who are going to need all the Science, Technology, Leadership and Communication skills they can muster to get the us all successfully through the next 100 years.
So, experience tells me that yes, we may be able to survive the here and now but by inequitably and under funding our children’s education there are going to be consequences and I don’t believe it is overly dramatic to say that we risk failing the whole human race!