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Who will get your vote in education? ‘We wunt be druv’

Caroline Barlow

Caroline Barlow

Heathfield Community College

In election year 2024, this is one of a series of fortnightly blogs – running through the year – in which we invite colleagues from across the country to answer the question: Who will get your vote on education?

Roy Blatchford is serving as convenor and editor of the series. If you are interested in writing, please contact [email protected]

The people of Sussex have a reputation for independent thinking. The unofficial Sussex motto, “We wunt be druv” ("we will not be driven") asserts that those from this historic county have minds of their own. Equally, since pre-1066 Sussex has been no stranger to politics, power and state, so any seeking to wield influence may do well to remember the Sussex tradition of lighting literal bonfires under the misuse of authority and social injustice.

The Department for Education holds particularly close ties to the county. The longest serving Schools Minister, current Secretary of State and former Shadow Schools Minister are among many Sussex politicians who hold or have held office. In an election year Sussex headteachers from Midhurst to Wadhurst, Horsham to Hastings are clear about what is needed for schools, students and staff: policies that purposefully address the long-term barriers in education:

Recruitment and Retention

Demographics reveal we will have a shortage of graduates and therefore teachers for up to 10 years even without woefully missed targets for entry into the profession. A well rewarded, respected and celebrated profession which offers credible flexible pathways for career and salary progression alongside home/work balance is essential to offset hybrid, flexibility offered in other graduate options.

Accountability

Multiple surveys, case studies and sadly coroner verdicts, suggest current inspection approaches are discredited and potentially harmful, fuelling the haemorrhaging exodus from the profession. Education Committee recommendations based on Beyond Ofsted findings indicate pathways that embrace ethical accountability and draw from international examples to create transformed approaches to both inspection and how we measure the performance of schools. Without this, any attempt to address the recruitment and retention of talented school staff at all levels is destined to fail.

An effective system for SEND

Current turmoil in SEND is an acknowledged, multi-layered and deep-rooted problem lying at the heart of the search for an inclusive and thriving society. Widely available, early identification, support and expert intervention would address the rapid rise in private diagnosis and escalating tension between families, schools and local authorities. This, alongside sufficient, effective and accessible alternative provision (with the aforementioned transformed accountability), would put the child at the centre, removing drivers of unethical behaviours which frustrate parents and leaders alike.

Sufficient and sustainable funding

Further to the 2017 drive for fairer school funding, this is a recognition of years of under-resourcing of both the fabric of the school estate in which our children are educated and all services beyond the school gates which affect children and families. Without the now absent tier 1-2 support in NHS and Social Care, wellbeing and mental-health intervention, welfare officers, family support workers, community youth services, incremental pressure on schools has escalated exponentially. Accessible ports in a storm for local and especially rural communities, school leaders are directly impacted; unable to influence yet held accountable for measurements directly impacted by these issues (attendance, behaviour etc); it is no wonder retention is a direct casualty of this crisis: More than 1 in 4 primary, and 1 in 3 secondary school leaders leave within five years of appointment, yet we know effectiveness in leading complexity only increases with experience.

These interlinked, deep-rooted issues underpin any chance of a successful education system for this country and the livelihoods of young people. If we accept that the social contract is indeed broken then more than ever we need a long-term vision for a society rooted in social, economic and political justice and care.

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." (William Butler Yeats)

As the ever-widening attainment gap in Sussex follows the national trend we cannot allow education to become the effigy on austerity’s bonfire; we need a spark of better things to come.

Sussex heads are clear that solutions have to be long-term; broad political consensus, sustainable resource and sector stability must create the commitment and climate for gaps to close, for aspiration and equality to thrive. In a county so historically connected to the battle for social justice, the determination of its leaders to hold the torch for their communities is surely worthy of serious consideration.

(These are the views of the East and West Sussex Headteachers gathered as part of the Heads Roundtable Listening Exercise of 2023-4)

Caroline Barlow, Headteacher, Heathfield Community College, East Sussex and Vice Chair of Headteachers Roundtable

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applications are now open for headteachers and senior leaders working across education. The programme gives leaders the opportunity to connect with your authentic self and equip you with powerful strategies to bring about the changes you believe in.

Who Will Get Your Vote in Education?

In election year 2024, this is one of a series of fortnightly blogs – running through the year – in which we invite colleagues from across the country to answer the question: Who will get your vote on education?

Roy Blatchford is serving as convenor and editor of the series. If you are interested in writing, please contact [email protected]

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