Saving up to £16,500 a year via a technology-enabled approach to recruitment could help.
The detrimental impact of spending cuts to a school community is no secret. As the government reduces schools’ funding, school leadership attempts to balance the books. This is often by reducing the budget and provision of pastoral and SEND support, leaving vulnerable children at risk. In a climate where there is increasing pressure to meet the needs of all learners while achieving ambitious attainment targets, underinvestment in the SEND and pastoral system has a significant negative effect on both staff and pupils.
During my time teaching in a challenging inner-London secondary school, I was in a whole-school meeting being shown a PowerPoint outlining the cost effectiveness of TAs in relation to attainment and progress. With the school facing a huge money deficit - coupled with the expectation to achieve certain headline figures - we were told that it was no longer affordable to maintain an SEND support department and pastoral system. Of course, this was followed by the decimation of the SEND support department – their budget slashed and most of the TAs made redundant.
“Like a ripple in a pond, the slightest change in the school community can disturb everything”
As SEND pupils lose access to their support, equally classwork becomes inaccessible; it’s easier just to misbehave. Teachers firefight classroom disruption, while single-handedly trying to meet the needs of all 30+ learners in the room. The workload of teachers builds up as they try to balance the duties of classroom teaching with the demands of children with SEND support needs. Meanwhile pupils with wellbeing concerns go ignored if they fail to attract enough attention; SEND children get excluded for disturbing the learning of others; and staff call in sick, get signed off, or resign. Any savings that were predicted are quickly exhausted by recruitment agencies and alternative provision.
It’s not fair to blame school leadership for attempting to save money; it’s an unenviable task that must be done. But it is clear to see that funding for pastoral and SEND support must be protected. If every child matters, then we must ensure that money is spent on meeting the social, emotional, and mental health needs of all children, not just focusing on attainment and progress. This requires money to employ enough classroom TAs, Heads of Year and their deputies, behaviour management officers, and learning mentors for children. In an environment where we fulfil “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”, attainment and progress will abound – not the other way around.
One key target area ought to be the excessive recruitment agency fees, which sees private companies pocket a significant amount of public money. This necessitates working with organisations that understand the cost impact of recruitment on a school and do not attempt to exploit recruitment challenges. One recruitment service which gets this is Zen Educate, an online alternative to recruitment agencies where schools save money whilst teachers and TAs earn more. In a case study carried out in the London Borough of Wandsworth last year, 14 schools joined Zen Educate to save over £100,000 on recruitment agency fees. Think of where that money could be spent.
Indeed, the cost of recruitment doesn’t cover all the spending cuts schools are expected to make, but it does help to ease some of the pressure on other areas of expenditure that need protecting. After all, prioritising the wellbeing of our pupils and meeting their educational needs are an essential part of our duty of care and obligation as educators.
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