I was on holiday when I read about my resignation as headmaster of St Edmund's. 'Head quits over Labour policies' read the headline. It came as quite a surprise. I knew I had resigned, but didn't think anyone would be interested. Then the story was mentioned on breakfast TV. A national paper took up the tale. Questions were asked in the House, and on Radio Norfolk. I began to wonder whether my obscure act of self-immolation might conceivably be noticed by the government.
'A very brave decision,' I was told time and again. It seemed to me, as Margaret Thatcher used to say, that there was no alternative.
The spat between Charles Clarke and the Local Government Association, representing the nation's local education authorities, is very childish. Where are the missing millions? Nobody is going home until we find them. Sooner or later Mr Brown will fork out some more, and the crisis will abate – until this time next year, that is. More contributions will have to go into the ailing pensions fund; there will be national insurance to pay; another pay rise to fund; and on top of that huge quantities will be needed to implement the now notorious Workload Agreement.
Under the terms of this amazing document, schools are henceforward obliged to release teachers to prepare for lessons for at least half a day a week, and teachers are spared from doing 24 named tasks such as collecting dinner money and putting up displays. In fact teachers' contracts will be changed in September to reflect the new code, and as the headmaster I am, or would have been, required to implement it. The cost to my school is £65,000 per annum in additional staff costs, on top of the £98,000 I am short this year. No school will be able to fund the agreement.
In so far as many schools have averted catastrophe this year, it is by dipping into the large balances they had accumulated. There was a junior school in Norfolk last year with a balance of £400,000, and the 400 primary schools had more than £12 million stashed away between them. Next year they will have no balances to draw on, and they will be forced to make painful cuts in staffing. Schools have not done so badly in the past out of this Labour government, and LEAs have very generously passed on much of the money into school bank accounts. Cautious and of course amateur governors have kept the money in interest accounts 'for a rainy day', so the children have been deprived of their due. Now it has started to rain, and the present spring shower is nothing compared with next year's monsoon.
My dispute with the government is not over the amount of money it is giving to education; it is over the demented way government controls that money. Apart from the 66 funding streams, money is tied to pet projects, and cannot be accessed by the majority of schools. If you happen to be in an education Action Zone, or an Excellence Cluster, you have had wads of money thrown at you. If you happen to be a failing school, you have had good teachers drafted in on high salaries, new buildings, redecoration, and an army of educational consultants to support you. If you happen to be a poorly performing secondary school, you can look forward to three years of the Leadership Incentive Grant, £125,000 up front per annum, plus a £50,000 facilitation grant to help you spend it. Anywhere, indeed, where Tony's beacon has illuminated an 'area of need' you can guarantee money has been swift to follow.
But suppose you are a successful primary school, rubbing along in exceedingly difficult circumstances, passing your Ofsted inspections, but in a black hole as far as ministerial attention is concerned; west Norfolk, for example. The wind comes in from the Arctic, whipping across the fens in winter, and in summer the caravans clog up the by-pass on their way to the coast. You are 55 miles from County Hall, so remote that on more than one occasion the director of education has lost his way when trying to find you. No huge balances here. Recruitment is a Sisyphean nightmare, and people rarely stay. No wonder so many people go off long-term sick with depression. Before Easter I had six of our 12 teachers away on one day, and no possibility of supply. The LEA said it would be 'very disappointed' if I sent the children home. Increasingly the people off with stress, or worse, are the head teachers themselves.
What made me snap? It was a day's required training (there is much that is 'required') for the Educational Visits Coordination (EVC). Invariably that role, like the Child Protection Officer, is taken by the head in a primary school, because the government does not fund it. The EVC is responsible for all school trips, whether or not he actually organises them or goes on them, and must ensure that all the risk assessments are filled out and approved. The North Norfolk coast is deemed a 'high-risk area' so your little trip up to Hunstanton with the infants is now seen as an activity akin to white-water rafting or hang-gliding. Every conceivable risk short of the sky falling on your head must be accounted for and covered. This is due in no small measure to the very rare but very public tragedies involving schoolchildren in recent years, and to the fact that last year schools paid out £200 million to litigious parents (Mr Clarke, I have found the missing millions, please give me a house point).
We were shown a slide of a group of children beside a river downstream from a waterfall. They were sitting or standing near