Although I’m very keen to wish everyone working in Sheffield schools a very happy new year, I have the most horrible feeling that 2019 will be a very difficult one for teachers and students.
As we get ready to return to classrooms there are many shadows hovering over the education industry that will affect Sheffield schools in different ways.
The biggest is undoubtedly linked to the well-publicised funding crisis pushing all schools to the wire, a crisis that has been highlighted with great effect by the Star and Telegraph.
Although Sheffield is set be a net benefiter of a national reshuffle of cash allocations, there is genuine uncertainty in some areas about when the new formula will take full effect and how much of an impact it will have.
Some Sheffield heads I’ve spoken to are rubbing their hands at the prospect of getting some extra cash , while others lament the relative low impact it will have and how poorly-funded we are compared to other cities.
For many schools, an injection of money will have just one impact – helping them to set a more balanced budget and cancelling deficits.
Sadly, 2019 is likely to be another year of redundancies as schools running at a deficit desperately look at ways to balance budgets before government officials punish them for poor financial management.
This will mean a further eroding of the city’s Teaching Assistants – and move which has a serious and sudden impact on some of the most vulnerable students in our city.
But the big money will be saved by axing senior school leaders and there’ll be some of that this new year as well; this may not impact directly in the classroom but schools involved will feel the strain of losing experts in school management.
There are also secondary schools in South Yorkshire considering a reduction in the subjects they offer to their students as a way of cutting costs, a move which will impact on teaching jobs as well as pupil choice.
And it’s not just cuts to the education industry which will hit schools this year because chronic shortages in mental health funding is having a devastating effect on young people.
At a time when we are piling more and more pressure on students of all ages, we are seeing an increase in mental health issues and not doing enough to offer help.
Sheffield primary schools will continue to convert to academies in 2019 at a faster rate than the country as a whole. With the government no longer pushing their dream of 100 per cent conversion and an opposition party ready to halt the whole programme, it’s strange to see some heads so keen on this ‘last push’ towards effective privatisation that is costing so much public money.
Throwing money at schools is not a guarantee that services will improve and there are, of course, many ways in which headteachers can make effective savings and advances in efficiency.
Senior officials I have spoken to, though, say the British education system is at breaking point and is poised to implode.
Whether this will be the year it happens, we will have to see, but at some point there will have to be some substance to the government’s claim that the years of austerity are at an end.
Perhaps the only light at the end of this grim and lengthening tunnel is to be shone on A-Level students applying to university in the next few years.
There is a possibility – and I stress it’s only a possibility – that the cost of tuition fees will be significantly reduced following a review of university funding in the coming months.
If they are reduced, this will look be good news on paper but in reality won’t mean that much of a difference for many students as the money is borrowed and rarely paid back in full.
Teachers will return with their batteries recharged and a fresh keenness to make a different to students’ lives, but with this political backdrop casting a shadow over their work. Happy New Year. Brace yourself.