October 12, 2023

Reflections: Sam Freedman’s presentation at The Norfolk Headteachers’ Conference

Sam Freedman is a senior fellow at the Institute for Government, senior adviser to ARK, vice-chair of Ambition Institute and a trustee of the Holocaust Education Trust. You may well have read one of his regular contributions to the TES, FT, Guardian, Prospect or the New Statesman. We were delighted to hear from Sam at the Norfolk Headteacher’s Conference last week.

Sam had come hot footed from the Labour conference in Liverpool to present to 150+ Norfolk school leaders. He joked at the start of his keynote that he had been on conference line-ups with Jaz Ampaw-Farr three times over the past few weeks, he said it works well because, “I will depress the crap out of you, but Jaz will cheer you up!”

The big challenges, as told by Sam…

 

The good(ish) news

There is likely to be no new schools legislation; the last opportunity to pass any legislation is in the King’s speech in early November and this is likely to be the last one before a general election, so no big changes that schools have to worry about.

The bad news

There is no more money. The reality is that the government is likely to avoid increasing any funding to enable tax cuts in order to encourage voters.

Other news

In terms of post-sixteen provision, although the current government had launched their aim for an Advanced British Standard (which has fondly been named as the Advanced ’BS’), Sam advised leaders not to spend time and energy worrying about this.

The main focus of DFE is on social care (MacAllister Review) and childcare expansion. This year Jeremy Hunt announced a big expansion of childcare. This potentially creates opportunities! If you’re in a school environment where you can offer nursery places to younger children, there could potentially be strong financial support.

What are Labour Planning around education if they come to power?

Unfortunately, not a lot is being said about education at the moment as Labour knows that big promises will cost big money. In Sam’s view there is not likely to be a system-level transformation that schools are hoping for, the current headlines however are:

Post Election – Three Big Challenges in Education

Money – there’s no more coming

There will not be a tap turned on with huge increases of funding when the new government comes in. OBR analysis actually shows a real team loss in school’s funding in spite of public sector spending plans. Sam’s clear advice was to plan for what it looks like at the moment and hope things improve.

Money – there’s no more coming
Teacher Recruitment – It has never looked this bad before.

Teacher recruitment is an area the education sector is most worried about particularly for the secondary sector. We are much further off target than we have ever been before; data shows we will recruit only 50% of what the system needs. This crisis is getting so urgent: it’s an emergency. The Secretary of State will have to push the chancellor to do something more dramatic and it is likely that policy intervention will be needed to shift the picture.

Teacher Recruitment – It has never looked this bad before.
Vulnerable Children – We need to understand the why…

The deeper, more systematic problem at the moment is the crisis of vulnerable children. EHCPS have doubled since 2015, hospital admissions for eating disorders in children has almost doubled since 2019. Sam called out poverty as the likely cause. Deep poverty, not relative; families that cannot afford food or heating. This has increased dramatically since 2015.

Vulnerable Children – We need to understand the why…

The big message – this might be as good as it gets for a while. As the Norfolk school system, our role is to ameliorate the situation by working together in partnership. To get through the next few years we need to create unity in the system, share expertise, resources and support each other.

Jaz Ampaw-Farr did indeed bring hope to the proceedings later in the day. When times are tough school leaders are brilliant at focussing on those at the centre of what we do, the children. As Magic Johnson said, “All kids need is a little help, a little hope and somebody who believes in them.” If we have nothing else in the system, we have that.

Sonia Innes – VNET Education Director, October 2023

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