School business leader: 'Schools must spend smart'
Hard-pressed teachers will be forced to take extra time off sick unless the Government injects more money into cash-strapped schools. The warning comes from a senior school business leader who says overworked teachers are suffering from mental health issues and are at breaking point.
Mrs Tracey Gray, director of support at Walbottle Campus in Newcastle upon Tyne, said budgets had been slashed putting even more pressure on the wellbeing of staff:
“As School Business Leaders we are tasked with ensuring that we can support Head Teachers in preparing and presenting a sustainable three-year budget,” she said.
“Set against this challenge is the reduction in real terms of 8% of school funding despite the Department for Education saying there is more money than ever within education [naturally there are also more children].
“Each year it becomes a case of making choices around curriculum, class sizes, pastoral support, learning support and a range of other services we are asked to provide, particularly as the funding pot for social care is also under severe pressure.
“This is resulting in additional pressure on our teachers – who are already at breaking point.
“We already have statistics which show that mental health is a significant factor linked to staff absence and further real term reductions will only add to this.”
Shock figures reveal a staggering 57% of teachers have considered leaving the education sector within the past two years because of health pressures.
Mrs Gray added: “Our staff are a precious resource who need our support and care.
“Additional funding is needed now to ensure we keep them and provide our students with the best possible education and outcomes to give them the future careers they deserve.”
Her appeal comes after more than 3 million households received a letter last week as disillusioned headteachers directly called on parents to join them in lobbying MPs and the government for more money to help schools after budget cuts.
The letter adds: “These issues... are common features across our education system. Levels of concern are widespread.”
Teachers nationwide are rallying together to address the government’s lack of action. Rose Wilcox, the School Business Manager at St George’s Primary, lambasted the government for their lack of support:
“The amount of money given to schools for each child has not changed from 2011 - 2017. This is simply not good enough. Schools need help now.
“The reduction in staff, both teaching and non-teaching, means less support for vulnerable pupils, and leaves less staff available to carry out small group work for pupils who are not thriving.
“In the worst cases parents are actually being asked to pay towards books and resources. How long will the Government allow this iniquitous injustice to our children continue?”
Andy Brown OBE, a headteacher from Cleveland who was the Chair of the DfE Primary Headteacher’s Reference Group and held the post of National Leader of Education from 2007 – 2018, added that school funding has withered while the government fixates on Brexit:
“Funding for our schools is becoming a major issue. Teachers rightly received a pay increase, but this was only partially funded.
“Some of our schools have had to make redundancies. The government has been fully focused on Brexit and our schools have been forgotten.”
However, Lord Agnew, the academies minister, believes that the first step to solving the crises is to find and eliminate wasteful spending.
One initiative looking to help cash-strapped schools save money that has already received the public support of Lord Agnew is Education Mutual.
Education Mutual has been set up by schools, for schools and looks to give educators the flexibility to design their own staff absence cover to match each school’s exact needs.
Founding director, Mrs Gray, explains: “Schools across the country are losing a notable proportion of their school budget every year to private business profits. This is a huge waste of money.”
“In contrast, the mutual keeps as much of the budget as possible within the education system with any surplus money left over at the end of the year going back to its members in the form of a benefit.
“Not only does this help to recycle the educational pound but it also means more resources are available to look after the health and well-being of staff.”
She added: “80% of member’s contributions to Education Mutual go directly towards the payment of claims (with the other 20% covering running costs). Compare this to private insurance companies, where (on average) only 58% of your school’s annual fee is spent on the payment of claims, with the remaining 42% going towards a combination of sales commission, running costs, taxes, and of course, profit.”
Education Mutual is different from other staff absence cover providers because it's owned by its members – schools, colleges, nurseries and other education providers. This means that all of the money that schools contribute to the mutual goes solely towards the payment of claims, covering running costs, and nothing else.
Mrs Gray argues this approach to be advantageous to schools and encourages other schools to join the ‘Mutual Revolution’:
“Every school should join the mutual so we can all regain control over our school budgets, work together to better support staff well-being, and keep our money where it is most needed – within the education system.”
Mrs Gray, who chaired the Board of Trustees for the Institute of School Business Leadership, also believes that the model helps prevents long-term staff absence and said: “This means health problems can be dealt with quickly, before escalating, and that long-term staff absences can often be averted as a result. Our care delivery includes physiotherapy and muscular skeletal services, mental health services (including face-to-face counselling), and a surgical assistance programme. Together, these services are able to address the most frequent causes of staff absences.”
For more information on school business management see educationmutual.co.uk