The news headlines are pretty bleak in the world of education at the moment. Industrial action by members of the National Education Union is disrupting schools up and down the country. They are taking action because of the significant financial challenges facing schools – as with every sector of the economy – in the face of skyrocketing energy bills and insufficient funding to raise staff salaries in line with high inflation. A further slap in the face was the revelation of WhatsApp messages from former Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, denigrating teachers as lazy and workshy at the height of the pandemic. I remember our staff working with students throughout that time – without vaccines or PPE – and moving heaven and earth to deliver education in unprecedented circumstances, so this is particularly galling.
There have also been shocking scenes on social media of schools around the country in disorder as students stage “protests” against rules and approaches taken by staff. I’m not going to get into the rights and wrongs of individual cases elsewhere, but I am very glad that our Academy is a school with strong student leadership and voice; a school where staff listen to students and where students are able to make positive changes to the Academy in partnership with staff – as one community. We have revised uniform rules and systems as a result of this kind of feedback from students through councils and student voice, and those groups are continuing to work hard to improve many aspects of school. We will continue to listen as our students express their views through the channels designed for this purpose – and I am grateful for the good sense and maturity that they have shown, despite the trends of social media.
As I was leaving school at the end of the day this week, I saw the carpet of crocuses and daffodils blooming again, as they do every spring. They reminded me – as they always do – that out of the cold and dark, brightness always returns. Working in schools, we are in the business of optimism. Every day, we work with the young people who have the potential to go out and make the world better, to solve its problems, to make a positive difference. No matter how difficult things are, the positivity and potential of our students make the job worthwhile.