Headteachers in Sheffield schools have been acting with one arm tied behind their back for far too long.
Like school leaders elsewhere in the country, Sheffield’s heads have found themselves making difficult decisions they don’t believe in because of the now infamous funding crisis.
Despite wanting to keep their best teachers and make sure their schools are fully resourced, headteachers have found themselves making people redundant, penny pinching on the photocopying budget and seeing the number of Teaching Assistants collapse.
They do this not because they want to, but because they have got to act with the hand they have been dealt.
It would be nice to see more headteachers sticking up two fingers to government policy to create an educational environment they believe in.
But most heads stick to the government’s line and work within budgets because they know full well that if they don’t the house of cards will start to fall down around their head.
Pressure would be put on them from the funding authorities, they’d get all sorts of threatening letters from various government departments, there’d be a naming and shaming in the press and ultimately the governing body would lose patience.
This downward spiral of events could only result in one outcome, with the headteacher losing their job and being replaced by somebody more effective at dealing with the cards they have been dealt.
Yes, headteachers have well and truly had their hands tied when it comes to protesting about conditions or taking action over the decisions that have been made.
This may – or may not – be about to change in the near future following the annual meeting of the National Association of Head Teachers, which is finally showing signs of supporting the direct action that has been needed for years.
The union this week backed a motion that could see headteachers taking a range of measures to protest about the funding crisis – including strike action.
Perhaps more significant for some local schools, heads also voted not to make staff redundant or alter terms and conditions to balance budgets.
These are two very significant developments from a union that has historically been reluctant to take direct action.
It shows just what a state things have got into if the headteachers are downing pens and picking up their metaphorical swords.
Sadly, any noises that come from the NAHT conference are destined to be just that – small noises in a fiery atmosphere with a lot of different groups making their own din.
Headteachers might have started to talk the talk, but if it came to them walking the walk I’m not sure it would make the slightest difference to government policy.
If headteachers went on strike it would gain a lot of media coverage, but this alone would not close schools or have the Department for Education quaking in its boots about the future of schooling.
And if the directive from on high is that headteachers should not make people redundant or restructure in order to save money, then I just don’t believe this will hold any weight.
The consequences of senior leaders putting their head on the line over issues like this is that they are very likely to lose their job, so it will be no surprise to anyone that few headteachers will stick to this idealistic principal.
What we need are strong words and threats of action from all the unions, working together for the common good.
Until that happens, headteachers holding meetings at a Bank Holiday conference may have voted for what they believe in, but the reality of life on the frontline is very different and few of them will be willing to make a stand by submitting deficit budgets.
Headteachers have their head over a barrel and despite fighting talk look set to be making the best of a bad job for the foreseeable future.