The following is an amalgamation of a number of things I have written or speeches I have given over the last month.  Some of it is the result of a number of people’s work and therefore I would like to thank all those in the @FlatCashEd core group.


The government’s decision to protect school funding only in flat cash terms per pupil means that schools throughout the country are facing, according to the National Audit Office, a real term cut of £3 billion by 2020.

However, in East Sussex school funding is already significantly below the national average and the impact of increasing costs will have devastating consequences.

Over the past five years schools have received a flat amount of funding for Key Stages 3 and 4. Post-16 funding for schools has been cut. Yet during this period schools have faced significant and unfunded increases in costs:

  • employer’s contributions to national insurance and pensions
  • the apprenticeship levy (from which many schools will get nothing back and while only 1% of employers nationally will have to pay this levy all maintained schools and most academies will have to pay)
  • Living wage increases
  • increases to salaries approved but not funded
  • abolition of the Education Services Grant
  • 80% reductions to the capital funding for maintaining school buildings

As a Headteacher I have already held difficult conversations with families of children (some with complex needs) regarding the decisions we are having to make about their child’s future. In the context of a lack of other community services, parents increasingly turn to schools to provide the support they once accessed externally. We now face the prospect of withdrawing all but basic statutory provision in order to make ends meet.


  1.  What actions have we taken.

Since 2012 we have carefully looked at all our outgoings to be as efficient as possible.  Due to a demographic shift Uplands, has been dealing with a reduced roll since then.  We have used the Government document on efficiency to guide us.

1. Deploy the workforce effectively, with a focus on developing high quality teachers. Teacher quality is proven to be the single most important feature of successful education systems. The most efficient schools that we visited invest a great deal of effort to get the staffing structures right, recruiting the right people and ensuring that they are continually supported to improve.

We have reduced staffing by 9 teachers over the past 4 years.  This has included reducing the SLT from 9 to 5 and removing a pastoral layer.  There are a number of areas in this bullet point that make me chuckle (albeit in a slightly manic way), but mainly recruiting the right people.  As i have discussed before, the Government has missed 5 out of the last 5 years’ worth of recruitment targets.  We have a very efficient timetable, with very little spare capacity (10 hours).  Everyone teaches more (including myself).  People teach across subjects where they can

2. Make use of evidence to determine the right mix of teaching and education support staff. We have found that, particularly in the secondary phase, high attaining schools tend to spend proportionately more on teaching staff and proportionately less on education support staff than their lower attaining peers. This is still the case even when comparing schools in similar circumstances and with similar pupil intakes. However, the way schools deploy support staff is also important, with the potential to have a significant and positive impact on pupil outcomes if used in line with the evidence on what works.

Firstly, all the evidence points to ‘higher attaining schools’ being those in areas of less social deprivation.  Therefore, I doubt there is the need to pay for a family key worker.  Or to have paid into the services for the traveller community.  Possibly not needing an onsite counsellor.  We have had to lose 5 support staff over the past four years.

3. Employ or have access to a skilled school business manager who takes on a leadership role. There is strong evidence that the employment of a high quality school business manager (SBM) can enable schools to save significant amounts of money. In all the schools we visited the SBM plays a prominent role.


4. Make good use of financial benchmarking information to inform the school’s own spending decisions. Schools that use benchmarking information to compare themselves to similar schools, and who act on what they find, manage to generate significant savings.

On the ones we use, our outcomes are very good for our children compared to what we spend.

5. Make use of school clusters, sharing expertise, experience and data, as well as accessing economies of scale when making shared purchases. All the schools we visited were part of some kind of cluster arrangement, and there is clear evidence that schools can drive far-reaching efficiency savings by working together with other schools. 

We have looked at all of our contracts and any saving that can be found in buying through county’s economy of scale have been done.  Our utilities & insurance has been sourced this way.   I have cut every line of my budget where I can. I have checked every contract that is up renewal.  We have reduced the amount of times our grass is cut.  We haven’t spent the £100k per year that I need to to maintain my buildings that was cut from my devolved capital expenditure budget.  I personally buy equipment and resources for my classes and I know that all staff do the same.

6. Manage down back office and running costs. There remains considerable variation in the amount that similar schools spend on running costs, such as energy or premises. The most efficient schools drive these costs down through improved procurement practices and a greater focus on value for money.

If you hadn’t notice this is basically an explanation of the last bullet point.  But, yes of course we have done this.  For example; I don’t claim expenses anymore for travel to meetings.  However, inflation has grown over the last 3 years and is expected to move over 2%; fuel prices have increased etc.  This is unfunded by the government.

7. Have in place a strong governing body and leadership team that challenges the school’s spending. A governing body that is willing to challenge schools on their use of workforce, their use of benchmarking information and the other aspects drawn out above, is a vital factor in encouraging greater whole-school efficiency. Where this is supported by a strong leadership team that is open to and welcoming of this challenge, schools can make significant efficiency gains.

I have a GB that has challenged me every step of the way. However, like all GB they looked at the 5 year budget predictions in 2012, assuming the best.  For new HTs this means walking into a job and being faced with very difficult decisions that you could possibly say the previous HT had decided to leave.

But, let us no kid ourselves about what has been written above.  State schools generally work on an 80% staffing to revenue budget.  Only 1. and a bit of 2.  has any impact on the largest element of a school’s spending.

What all these ‘efficiency’ savings have meant is more things falling to those left, because the amount of jobs we are required to do have increased over the same period.

  • New GCSEs
  • New A levels
  • British Values
  • E-Sfaety
  • Safeguarding changes
  • Finding the efficiencies that will help our budgets
  • Finding grants to help our revenue streams

To name but a few

  1.  Are the cuts required to fund the cost increases required realistically achievable?

Firstly, if my budget had kept pace with the cost increases this year (inflation, Employers Pension Contributions Teachers and the pay settlement) I would have an additional £ £142,955.31 in my budget.  This doesn’t include the £100k that I lost from the Reduction in Devolved Formula Capital Funding.  The £100k that I am told that I must spend to maintain my ageing capital stock.

So the short answer is now no.  To a point there were efficiencies that schools could make, but we have made them  Does this make schools better, no, but we have a responsibility to spend public money as efficiently as we can.  However, from this point forward I can only see the cuts effecting the education of young people.  It will have an impact on our students, especially in our ability to keep them safe or maintain the high standards of outcomes.  But also in our ability to create well rounded adults.

Schools are also dealing with all the issues of the disappearance of the wider safety nets, such as access to CAMHS for none but they most serious.  COPEs family support has to be bought in; behaviour support needs to be bought in; specific support in dealing with absence has to be bought in.  Services that have an impact on our most vulnerable pupils, we have to buy in, but there is no money to buy them in anymore.

The raising of the bar in threshold levels for safeguarding referrals causes schools to be responsible for more.  This is with less staff and less time

On top of that the shortfall being discovered around the country for children with high needs are being clawed back from schools, when budgets are already under huge pressure.

Apprenticeships levy again requires staffing time to run it on top of the funding that we lose to pay for it.  This is when the Houses of parliament and the BBC are exempt and only 1% of employers are being asked to pay the levy.

We already have the situation that our students suffer from being in a rural community. Deprivation here is more than just income;  it is access to jobs; no or very little pubic transport; no access to the arts.  What will education look like for the majority of students, with no GCSEs and A levels in smaller subjects such as music, art, drama, French, Spanish?

We cannot maintain a broad curriculum (which we have had to cut already).  Class sizes will grow beyond the maximum that some classrooms can hold (which is 30).

By 2019/2020

We will be dealing with £69,350.56 less in funding just because the income has not kept up with inflation.  This is only if inflation remains at the Bank of England estimate of 1.7%.  That equates to 2 teachers.

Even with all the reductions in staffing our staffing costs almost remain static because of the increases in associated costs, pension contribution, NI etc.  For the party of business I find it hard explaining back to Conservatives that rising costs, with no rise in revenue has serious implications.

Employer pension contribution, national insurance and an estimated 1% pay rise each year mean that by 2019-20 I will have £118k less to spend on students.  This is three teachers.

Then added to that we have the apprenticeship levy and the living wage means that £168k less to spend on pupils.

SO in 2019/20 as a school we will £237,780.56 less to spend on pupils just from the cost increases.  This doesn’t include an attempt to keep up with maintenance costs of our buildings

BUT, as we are already funded well below the average and that continues.  So like all schools we have to start to consider cuts that are not palatable to any school leader.  We are not talking about luxuries we can do without, but people or service that will have profound implications for students.

  1.  More opportunities to make savings

I am sure there are but they are shifting the deckchairs on the titanic.  In fact, I recently said that the it is less like shifting the deckchairs on that ship, but actually trying to organise a tea party on it while it is broken up and on the bottom of the ocean.  Staffing makes up 80% of a school’s budget.  The cost increases make it virtually impossible to do anything bar lose staff.

So much is unfunded cost increases, so we are not making efficiency savings just keeping our heads above water.  But expected to deal with complete changes to GCSEs and A levels without money to buy resources or train the staff.

What to do?

There has simply been no attempt to benchmark the cost of a curriculum.  Just a simple look shows the following:

150 students require 5 forms of entry.  So, for the three year groups, just teaching them in the traditional 1 hour lessons,  that is 375 hours of teaching per week.  This equates to 16 teachers required to teach that curriculum (each teaching 23 hours a week).  If they were All NQTs that equates to £360k or teachers that are all top of scale that equates to £620k (these figures do not include on-costs).  

Clearly, that is a simple model but one that can easily be calculated down to each pupil.  (Big edit from Tom!).  This gives us a starting point of £1,378 per pupil for a Key Stage 3 curriculum.

We can all appreciate the significant and collective responsibility required to secure the long term prosperity of the United Kingdom but we would urge that it is a false economy to compromise the education of a generation to secure a political or financial agenda over the next 4 years. Our young people are at the heart of this country’s future productivity and wellbeing, if their experience is significantly compromised due to the impending and real financial crisis in schools, then we will all reap the outcomes for generations to come.


Love the one you’re with – recruitment and retention


So Tim Matthews (@purplepedagogy) and I were invited to lead a session at . The last four slides show the feedback we received from the tables, but we would love you to also comment.

Please feel free to leave questions and I’ll do my best to answer them…although see the small print on the first slide!

Sources for the diagrams and tables are

SFR 21/2015 School Workforce in England: November 2014 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/440577/Text_SFR21-2015.pdf

National Audit Office Training New Teachers HC 798 SESSION 2015-16 10 FEBRUARY 2016 https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Training-new-teachers.pdf

Initial teacher training census for the academic year 2015 to 2016, England SFR 46/2015, 19 November 2015 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/478098/ITT_CENSUS_SFR_46_2015_to_2016.pdf

Schools Week “What do the statistics say about teacher shortages”, John Dickens, Sep 27, 2015 http://schoolsweek.co.uk/what-do-the-statistics-say-about-teacher-shortages/

Edit (slide 23) I threw away the comment that men are unrepresented in teaching until you get to SLT. This seemed to get an number of quotes from those attending on twitter and at least one raised eyebrow.

Looking at the figures this was me being very Secondary and very Headteacher focused.  Where 62% of the workforce are women and yet only 37% of headteachers are.


Women into School Headship (http://www.womenintoschoolheadship.co.uk/womens-leadership/) point out that:

“The DfE School Workforce Census continues to evidence the underrepresentation of women in Headship in all sectors, compared to their numbers in the profession.  With women accounting for over 60% of the profession in secondary and over 85% in primary we would expect to see more women headteachers than the disproportionate 37% and 71% respectively.”


“The Census shows that female deputy and assistant headteachers now make up over 50% of senior leadership teams, an increase of nearly 2% in both primary and secondary schools since 2011. In 2014 there was an incremental increase of 1.6% over the last three years for women in primary headship and a slight improvement in the number of women secondary headteachers by 0.7%.”

I hope that clarifies!

Technology in Schools



There is a very famous youtube video called ‘shift happens’, where the future world is laid out in front of us and has shaped some of the direction of education thinking.  To summarise, we need technology literate children to cope with what is coming.  This with additional pupil premium funding has seen, what can only be called an arms race, in schools to equip the pupils with ever more expensive shiny kit.

Fifteen years ago saw a similar technology race to equip every classroom with an interactive white board.  A piece of kit that sucked budgets dry and is very rarely used beyond a screen to show PowerPoints.  This time the general move tends to be towards 10 inch screens with a picture of a bitten apple on the back.

Now I am not particularly a dinosaur when comes to technology.  I use a smart phone and tablet for work and in lots of situations they are hugely useful.  My tablet is full of documents to read, typed and handwritten notes, to do lists and web pages I want to read later.  My calendar and emails sync seamlessly across platforms and devices.  I have made fantastic contacts through social media.

My point here is that I studied O and old style A levels.  There was no thought to the future world that we might inhabit.  Key to sorting children’s ability was knowledge acquisition, regurgitated on to an exam paper at the end of the course.  With the current examination system heading back to these tests, I honestly ask “what is the point of huge amount of technology in a classroom”.  Yes I can see the research and revision that can be done, but typing, and watching are second class learning techniques.  In a paper published in April last year in the journal Psychological Science, two US researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer claim that note-taking with a pen, rather than a laptop, gives students a better grasp of the subject.  If to prove your knowledge you will have to write for a minimum of two hours, a keyboard skills are just not going to cut it.

So, as a nation we have a dilemma we either we have to admit that our current examination regime is not producing the students that we need because they need the technology or agree that the 19th Century skills of recall, handwriting, spelling and grammar are the way forward.  I believe that the current technology that children use with ease are a fantastic tool, but ultimately it won’t help them be successful in tests that were invented over 60 years ago.  And, by the way, I am still waiting for the hoover board promised in the 1980s.

Newspaper Article



Since March I have been writing a series of columns for the local newspaper under the title of A view from the Head’s Roundtable.  This page on the blog is where I will update with each new column.  To be honest I am clueless if they have any worth or add anything to the current debates in education.  I just hoped that it would open a small window on what it is like to be a Headteacher, running an average sized comprehensive in East Sussex.


Clearly some of these are completely out of date and I hope that I have attributed them correctly…apologies to Sam and Laura.

One final point, writing between 400 and 550 words per week is bloody hard.  Well actually finding something to write about really bloody hard.  So hats off to the journalists who manage it week after week…especially those that don’t just swallow a Government PR line!


Trust to Transform

I spent this weekend at the ASCL conference in London, where the President, Peter Kent’s opening speech was about trusting school leaders.  The question of how to transform an education system that has been held back by years of prescription and central control?  Peter quoted the American educationalist Joel Klein who said: “You can mandate adequacy; you can’t mandate greatness. It has to be unleashed”.

He went on to quote he recent McKinsey report that concluded the English system is a good one and that there is much to be proud of.  But, there was still needed to make the journey from good to great.

Peter then turned his attention to trust.  He felt that over of the past ten years policy makers and OFSTED have used words and phrases such as ‘requires improvement’, ‘standards’ and ‘zero tolerance’, which sound more challenging than a simple word such as ‘trust’.  But, those of us working in schools will tell you that trust is exactly what we need to move our education system from good to great.

Outside education the consulting firm, Watson Wyatt, showed that companies which ran their operations on a high trust models outperformed those who didn’t by over 286% (an intriguingly exact figure granted).  Multi-national companies such as PepsiCo identify trust as a core aim.  There is also the phrase of the ‘trust dividend’, which has been identified as the driver for innovation, customer loyalty and revenue growth

During this year’s Global Education Summit, organised by the Gates Foundation and the Sutton Trust, Australian Headteacher Paul Browning explained that schools that had created a culture of trust were seven times more likely to improve than those where trust was weak.

Clearly as school leaders if we want to restore trust within our education system then, as Peter Kent said, “We have to be the ones who will have to make the first move…We know that a culture of trust has the power to transform individual schools and colleges.”

So although we heard of some encouraging news over the conference, the establishment of an independent Royal College of Teaching and a slimmer OFSTED framework with more involvement from current school leaders we were still aware that the politicians believe that they should write the curriculum.
We therefore have to bring to an end the dichotomy between unleashing the greatest in the system through trust, while we have a system that is controlled by diktats from the centre.  As Peter Kent reiterated, “Trust to Transform”.


One comment is playing on my mind this Easter break. “Not earlier than summer 2013”, is the comment. In normal life that set of words would hold no fear. A film being released perhaps, a band talking about their new album or a new piece of desirable technology…sadly that comment was made by the last ofsted inspection team during their no notice observation in 2009. My school was judged as good and so “not earlier than summer 2013” was their expression of when we could expect our next inspection.

Not earlier than summer 2013, seemed a long way away when I accepted the post of Headteacher in March 2012.

Not earlier than summer 2013, seemed an age away when I embarked on my approach to teaching and learning in September 2012.

But, summer 2013 is now upon me and now I decide to feel nervous about the strategies and approach I have taken.

The central approach is trust. I truly believe that the vast majority of the teaching staff operate around the ofsted good grade, on a daily basis. From the exam results, to the progress of the children, the feedback from parents and how the students view the school. I know we are at least a good school…I want staff to feel free to teach. I expect no standard approach. I operate with a no blame culture. Try things, fall flat on your face, get up and try again.

Lessons should be different in delivery because it should be based on a teachers personality…some lessons might be ‘long’ (dull to the adults), but I don’t care as long as every child is known and every child is making progress. I expect staff to work together; to be open to develop their practice; to desire improvement; to seek criticism from colleagues that they trust. Professional autonomy rules. Staff have been free to choose their observer for their own development. Together we have decided on what we want to work on and we have structured Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to enable teachers to work on these areas. We have used learning walks, data collections and modular exam results to test the temperature…in the main this is all looking good.

Why? Because I trust the staff. Because letting staff fly, I believe, is the way that my school truly becomes outstanding.

There have been individual issues that I have been a concern. But, all have been dealt with on an individual level, with a quiet conversation with the member of staff concerned. I have avoided the. policy of a staff room “en mass telling all off” or a system change that is aimed at one person. That I used to hate and so I refuse to do it.

So why the worry? Not all have grasped the opportunity yet. Some are so worn out by the regimes of the past and they don’t trust the new systems. Seemingly waiting for the bite to come, for the trick to be revealed. They have selected close friends to work with or to be observed by. People that may not tell them a hard truth about their teaching, but play safe to maintain the friendship. This is a very small minority.

So why am I nervous? I lack the comfort of the ‘folder’, the one I used to build on staff performance from crunching lesson observations. The folder that proves to ofsted and their narrow view of school life, that I know my school. But, I am certain that I know my school. Ask me a question about any teacher and I can tell you their relative strengths because we share them and I can also tell you what they are working on to help themselves improve.

The journey we are one will take more than two terms to embed and all the signs are there that it will…but “not earlier summer 2013” is making me very nervous.

So teaching to the test is put against assessment for learning


Ok even i find this a tricky one…
Short-hand – Teach to the test basically equates to me standing at the front and making sure the students have everything they need to pass the exam.

Assessment for Learning – is the process of the students understanding what they need to pass the test, by allowing them to explore a topic and relate that to an assessment criteria.

One is lead by the teacher the other is lead by the learner…this is when it becomes a little bit tricky to understand this research. You do have to share, explain, teach the criteria/mark schemes/’what the examiner is looking for’ to enable the students to be able to do this for themselves, but then the process becomes the students seeing it for themselves…but isn’t this teaching ‘to the test’? AfL is all about the journey where am i now (level/grade)? what is my target (level/grade)? and what do i need to do to move towards the target? In the end AfL is allowing the students to understand the dark arts of levelling and marking a, yes you’ve guessed, it a test.

So is the point that a group of students that have a teacher under pressure for results will do worse than an teacher not under the same pressure? But what is that stress? I thought that we all wanted our students to do as well as possible? The result of that is that students do better or as well as expected? Some classes are harder than others? Some individuals are harder than others? But, in the end the class will hopefully do better than expected.

Now try to marry that up with two teachers in two schools. One working with a top set in a grammar school, with all their students expected to get an A*. That teacher can fail to get all them that grade, but 100% will pass. Therefore, the teachers results, internally, can be seen to be an underperformance. The students haven’t done as well as they should have had. But, externally the school is still successful. The school could get a visit from our friends at OFSTED, be told that its value added figures aren’t good enough, but will still get a minimum of a good because its standards (the pass rate) is massively above the national average. No-one ‘fails’ the school is still successful in the eyes of everyone externally.
The second teacher is expected to get 30% to a C grade, but the national minimum of 30% A* to C requires them to get 50% through. Even if to do that, that member of staff has basically worked miracles. The school is under-enormous pressure. If they don’t get above the 30% the head will be fired, possibly the governors. The SLT come under that pressure and it flows downwards to the staff. Everyone starts to ‘teach to the test’ results are disappointing compared to the National Average (although based on the intake of the school a success). OFSTED tell them that they can only get a satisfactory because their standards are too low against the national average. The Head is fired, National Challenge enter, more pressure etc etc.

I suppose the point of this blog is that it is ultimately the pressure of league tables that creates this mess. To allow teachers to ‘let go’ and allow the students to learn independently requires a moment of reflection across the whole of the education sector. Teachers need to see that letting go allows students to learn better and therefore gain higher marks without the pressure of the possibility of people losing their jobs and the school being closed down or labelled as failing. You have to be an extremely confident individual to let go in this way or work in an institution that won’t come under the spot light with every % point gained or lost.

Scrap the league tables, allow outstanding practice to be shared across the profession and then watch all students results improve…oh but then the exams will be deemed to be easier…don’t get me started on current assessment methods!!!