Dear Parents and Carers,
Welcome back to the summer term. It has been good to have some sunshine this week and see the children able to make use of the fields in both schools.
This term is very much exam term. GCSEs have started already, with Art and Photography this week and languages next week. A-Levels will begin shortly, and SATs start in three weeks. I know from what I see of them, that the children and young people are well prepared and determined to do well. I wish them all the very best for the coming half term.
I am sorry to say that the cost of a school meal is going to rise. The current price, and the amount we get for every free school meal that we supply, is £2.30. That will go up to £2.41 from Wednesday 3rd May.
Given that the cost of food has risen by nearly 20% in the last year, an increase of less than 5% on a school meal is still good value. However, I realise it will be a challenge to many of you.
We have asked ParentPay to add a function that will allow parents who want to make a contribution to support other families to buy some extra meals when they top up their own children’s accounts. We will then be able to distribute those meals to families who are facing some financial hardship but don’t quite qualify for free school meals. We are working on the detail of that scheme at the moment and I’ll share more information as I get it.
There are more strike days coming up, details of which have been communicated separately. I know how inconvenient these strikes are for families and I apologise for that. I’m also grateful for the support that teachers have received from the community. I thought it might be helpful to explain a little bit about why I think the last pay offer was rejected by all of the unions involved.
The strikes aren’t just about how much money teachers take home, though it is certainly true that teachers’ pay has reduced since 2010, by around 15% according to the institute of fiscal studies. The drop in pay means that it is very difficult to recruit teachers into the profession. This year, we have seen secondary schools in particular unable to fill vacancies because there are simply not enough teachers available. We have seen support staff leaving education to work in supermarkets because the pay is better. If we don’t make the profession a more attractive one to join, we will run out of people to teach our children.
Another problem is that of the 4.5% pay offer made recently, only 0.5% was funded – schools were asked to find the first 4% from existing budgets. Across both schools, that would amount to well over £400,000 and we just don’t have that sort of money lying unallocated in budgets. If we needed to make those kind of savings, we would be forced to look very carefully at anything we do beyond the core teaching of the curriculum at a time when our children need more support and care than ever before. Children are still bouncing back from the pandemic; this is not the time to start cutting the pastoral and wellbeing services we offer. Another money saving option I have heard schools resorting to is teaching students in super-classes of 60 or more in order to make do with fewer teachers. If anything, we need smaller class sizes, not larger.
Those two issues – recruitment and funding – are often overlooked by the press, but I think they are central to this debate. As a school leader, it is not my concern which party is in power or who holds the purse strings. What is my concern is whether I am given what I need in order to deliver what your children deserve.
I went into the library at SWA one lunchtime this week and was delighted to see it full of young people playing chess. I’m told that if more than six pairs of students want to play, they have to arrange a rota because we have so few boards. As I explained above, times are tight. If you have a chess set at home that you aren’t using, we could make very good use of it here. If you would like to donate a chess set, please ask your child to take it to Miss Lane in the library.
Our annual Aspire Careers Event is next Wednesday 26th April between 4.30 and 6.00pm in the Studio. It is an excellent opportunity to come and talk to some local and regional employers about opportunities and career paths. The event is open to all SWA students and their parents and every student who attends will be given a free entry into a prize draw for a £50 Amazon voucher.
We will be sending out links to parental surveys on Monday next week. Please keep an eye out for those links and take a few minutes to complete the survey. Your feedback is very important to us.
Reasons to be cheerful
Your children make me cheerful everyday as I talk to them around the schools (even the ones teasing me about the terrible, terrible performance of Scunthorpe United this season). Above and beyond the normal cheerfulness, there have been some nice things happening since I last wrote to you. The concert at SWA at the end of last term was a great success – congratulations to everyone involved in that. I had the pleasure of watching Year 3 enjoying their Roman day at WPA this week – a gentleman in costume was very bravely explaining the development of the Roman toilet and I was impressed by the very sensible way that the children listened and asked questions. Children and staff all looked great in their costumes – Mrs Palazon came to the staff meeting later that day still dressed as a Roman goddess. I think she was enjoying herself.
Year 2 went on a visit to a farm this week, where I am told they had a great time, and a number of students from Year 10 visited St Catherine’s College in Cambridge to get a taste of university life and learn more about what is on offer from Higher Education providers. Thank you to all the staff involved in organising those activities.
Have a good weekend,
Samuel Ward and Westfield Primary Academies