Saturday September 10, 2022

My daughter is starting secondary school — how will the energy crisis affect her learning?

My daughter is starting secondary school — how will the energy crisis affect her learning?

Picture used for illustrative purposes.

James Moore, The Independent

It’s a proud moment for parents when a child starts a new school. They stand on the stairs in their neatly pressed uniform, smiling (hopefully) for the obligatory photo, which really shouldn’t end up on social media (they’ll hate you for that if it does).

The happiness of the day is inevitably seasoned with a hint of bittersweet flavouring. There’s that sudden jolt: Christ, she’s growing up at the speed of the bullet train in that Brad Pitt movie. We’re on the parenting out-lap.

There’s a little bit of worry too. And that never quite goes away because it’s a parent’s job to worry. On the other hand, there’s the anticipation of watching the

m grow and succeed and start to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the new place, especially after having overcome a decidedly bumpy last couple of years at primary school as a result of Covid.

Oh, wait. Because, what’s going to happen to those opportunities if the school goes bust? I mean, schools don’t go bust. But you know what I’m saying here. If the budget squeeze too many are experiencing morphs into something really nasty.

During my career as a school governor, I sat on the finance committee of my daughter’s primary school for a while. I experienced firsthand the struggles of coping with a lack of resources to meet one’s budgetary commitments, such as unfunded pay rises.Sitting around the table discussing potential catch-22 situations, and how we might raise extra cash to fend them off, my head started to feel like it was in a vise. I’m not a governor any more. But the vise is still there today, in sympathy with those who are.

“Government delivers landmark rises to teachers’ salaries” trumpeted a press release in July, which proceeded to bang on about the funding allocated to schools, all the while neglecting to mention that money for the pay rise wasn’t in it. It quoted James Cleverly, the education secretary, who was himself educated privately, a sector which can always tap its wealthy parents for cash (only 7 per cent of the population can afford the fees) to keep the wolf from the doors. Charitable status — it is utterly inexplicable that places like Eton benefit from that while state schools do not – doesn’t hurt with the numbers either.

Tim Marston, a state school head, writing for the excellent Schools Week, said those pay rises — we should at this point make it clear that they are richly deserved and very necessary — would tip a budget surplus into a deficit. What will he cut? Where will the axe fall when the energy crisis turns a toxic budgetary mix into thick radioactive financial sludge? How are my finance committee colleagues coping? What do they do if their schools were staring at a deficit before the crisis hit?

There is no energy price cap for the institutions that educate our children. The proposed measures to help householders, which are now finding their way into the media? They won’t apply to schools.

We have, as a result, already been treated to reports of staff walking the halls to ascertain which light bulbs can be removed. Are we going to get letters asking our children to wear their coats into class next? How does that impact on kids whose parents can’t afford warm ones? And what happens if schools have to close for part of the week?

No, ministers have said. Not going to happen. They’re so very good at talking at people, this lot, but here’s the reality: they might have to. If they’re in the state sector, it might be a choice between sacking half the teachers or giving up half a day. Then a full day. Then two. Energy isn’t going to get any cheaper in the short term.

This is the nightmare scenario: your child is just starting a new school and boom, you’re thrust back into the middle of lockdown learning, which was a disaster. It wrecked our autistic son, who still hasn’t recovered. It left an indelible mark on our daughter. We thought she’d coped quite well but last year it became clear that it had had an impact, amplifying the pressures of SATs year.

“I hate school,” she said. We’d never heard that from her. This was a child who soaked up knowledge like a sponge, is what the Americans call a straight A student. It felt like a dagger in the hearts of her mother and I when she said that.

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