Funding: Government needs to understand the reality

Written by: Andy Mellor | Published:
Funding fight: The new president of the NAHT, Andy Mellor, who hopes to make funding a cornerstone of his presidential year

The incoming president of the National Association of Head Teachers, Andy Mellor, reflects on the values that have taken him so far in the profession and sets out some of his priorities for the year ahead

The NAHT was commended to me by my father when he was a head, although as a teenager I had absolutely no aspirations to be a teacher. And I told my parents so.

Both of them were involved in education. After dinner, I distinctly remember watching my mum fall asleep in front of the television with a pile of books on her knee and just thinking to myself: “There is no way I’m doing that for the rest of my life.”

However, here I am. I’ve been headteacher at St Nicholas CE Primary School in Blackpool for 15 years. In that time, my team has taken the school from requires improvement to outstanding in the eyes of Ofsted and we have grown the school from 245 pupils to 407. Following inspection I became an National Leader of Education and the school was awarded Teaching School status in 2017. I’ve been a member of NAHT’s National Executive Committee for five years.

A life spent in education has meant that I’ve seen many different initiatives, priorities and indeed secretaries of state come and go. And I’m sure I’ll see many more.

Education constantly changes. Not always for the better, admittedly, but we have certainly got to a situation where more schools than ever before can say they are doing a good job for the pupils in their care.

Because things change all the time, it is important to find your own way and your own values in your professional life. That’s what I believe anyway.

Right from the off, it was that experience of working with children and seeing how much it is possible to do for them both in terms of their academic learning and their social learning that really fired me. The sort of impact you can have on young people’s lives is like no other job.

My first job was in the Midlands. I did two and a half years in a little primary school in Birmingham and it was there that I guess I started to realise the real influence I could have as a teacher on children’s lives.

I remember one of the kids in my first ever class wasn’t particularly gifted in maths or English, but I ran the school football team and he would often come along. One Friday night it was absolutely tipping it down, so I took the kids for a run around the field and there was this one lad who was just so much quicker than the rest, so I said “you need take this up, you’re really good at that”.

Fast forward 12 years to the 2000 Sydney Olympics and I turn on the television and he’s there running 400 meters for Great Britain. The power of that in terms of shaping lives brought home to me the sort of impact it is possible to have. Just look up Daniel Caines online, and you’ll see exactly who I’m talking about.

Daniel was a boy who had a real skill and ability that wasn’t made immediately obvious by standardised testing. His individuality really shaped my thinking around meeting the needs of the whole child and finding where their talents lie.

As we have said many times at NAHT, test and exam data are only part of the picture when judging a school’s effectiveness or a pupil’s success. All children have gifts. It is our job as teachers and school leaders to provide the sort of opportunities that allow these gifts to manifest themselves and be cultivated.

That is why the impact of government cuts to education has had such a negative impact on schools and school children. It has narrowed curriculum choice and opportunity, which cuts down on the sort of opportunities that can help young people find their calling, just as Daniel found his and as I found mine.

At my current school, we have built a team, and for us it was a team that Ofsted decided took us from requires improvement to outstanding. It is therefore heart-breaking to start disassembling that team because we don’t physically have the funds in that school to be able to keep it together.

It is taking apart a community of highly effective professionals some of whom may well be lost to the profession forever. Telling valued colleagues that we can’t keep them was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do and however it is conveyed, it inevitably makes our colleagues feel unvalued.

The government needs to understand that.

Because there are more children in our schools than ever before, we are being asked to do a heck of a lot more than we’ve ever been asked to do before, but with less money to do it.

Without sufficient funding, all of the other aspirations we have for our schools, our staff and our students will be held back. None of us wants that to happen. So while I will be spending my presidential year lobbying for fairer accountability, lower workload and a broader curriculum, I will keep returning to the theme of funding.

There’s nothing I’d like more than to hand over the reins in a year’s time and say that together, all the many voices in education had contributed to a better funded system that truly meets the needs of all its pupils and staff. 

  • Andy Mellor took over as the president of the National Association of Head Teachers at the union’s annual conference in Liverpool earlier this month. He is headteacher of St Nicholas CE Primary School in Blackpool.

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