Patronising, insulting, condescending – tautological maybe, but how it makes me feel. The Chancellor’s ‘little extras’

In Monday’s Budget statement to the House of Commons, Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced a one-off £400 million grant to schools for ‘little extras’. Ignoring all the difficulties over defining ‘pupils’, (Nursery-aged? Pre-school? Sixth Form colleges? Special Schools? Alternative placements not called ‘schools’?) it is about £40 per pupil, assuming it is shared out equally per pupil. So Lydgate Junior School may stand to receive a bonus of £19,000 in the next financial year. Why such a churlish, ungrateful, response from Headteachers, then?

A             I don’t know what ‘little extras’ are – it has been a long, long time since we bought anything simply because it would be nice.

B             We are forecasting a budget deficit by the next financial year unless we make further cut-backs. And we are expected to spend this windfall on ‘little extras’ when I may have to cut still further into staffing to balance the books?

C             The unbelievably crass, 1950’s, pin-money language of it – the man-of-the-house handing down the good wife something extra to buy herself a treat so she looks good / feels good on their Friday night out.

D             Because it is, in reality, so little compared to what we have set aside, undone, these last five years. The repairs delayed, the improvements not even seriously planned, the corners cut, the staffing reduced, the services trimmed, the charges levied for things done for free previously and the impossible cost of the massive jobs needed still cannot be addressed with this one-off grant.

E              Priorities and professionalism and care for pupils will mean we spend it on essentials, not ‘extras’, anyway. High level (low incidence) SEN/D support is massively expensive but essential for individual pupils and their peers (and the class teacher). In our case we are about to admit a new child with needs that will cost us an additional £18,000 a year. It is preposterous to think we will allow our budget to overspend by that much because we spend the grant on ‘extras’. Meeting the needs of a child with visual impairment is not an ‘extra’, nor is supporting children with diabetes who need frequent blood sugar checks, and nor is supporting a child who has mobility issues round our building and site (with its fourteen sets of steps / stairs and six ramps). We cut sickness absence insurance for support staff this year to save budget costs. The actual cost is lost provision for children who find learning harder. That is not a 'little extra' even if it is not legally essential.

F              Improving IT hardware so it meets the curriculum requirements and challenges in, say, science, is not an ‘extra’. Mr Hammond suggested we buy a couple of (interactive) whiteboards or some extra laptops. He assumes, perhaps, that what we have works well as it is and meets needs. Ask your children how long it takes for the PCs in the suite to logon and open a document. Ask staff how often the Hall laptop loses network connection. Ask the Pastoral Team where their laptop went.  Ask your children how many iPads we have to use in class, and how often they get to use them. Kit has become obsolete and incompatible with newer operating systems. We cannot meet the points for improvement in the last but one Ofsted report (2012) if we do not do this.

G             I keep going back to that language – it smacks so much of ‘here’s five pounds; go and buy yourself something nice’.

H             Michael Gove, when Education Secretary, sent every school a copy of the King James version of the Bible on the 400th anniversary. ‘Gove’s Bible’ many called it. Where is it now? What difference did such an unsupported, unrequested, action make? It was waste of time and money. This doling out of money seems to be a sop, and without plan. What noticeable difference does the Chancellor actually think will come about?

I was telling my Y5 class about an encounter with a family on Parents Evening. They were coming the opposite way through a doorway, and I held it open for the little child who was with them. I asked the class what the mother had said, and everyone chimed, ‘Say thank you’, and they were right. We say ‘thank you’ because it is polite, and because our mothers taught us to.

So, thank you, Mr Hammond. We will spend however much you might give us on something nice for the children in our school. We will send you a nice ‘Thank You card’ once we have the cheque you have promised, and we will let you know what we spent it on. But, please, do not think that adding just 1% to my school’s income for the year will make any sort of noticeable difference.

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