“We may work in Victorian buildings, but this is not Victorian Britain,” Judy Shaw, NAHT’s new president, told members gathered on in Telford for NAHT’s 2019 Annual Conference on 4 May. “I feel like I woke up to find myself playing a part in a badly staged version of Oliver Twist or Nicholas Nickleby. It is the 21st Century and our children deserve better.”
In her inaugural speech, Judy celebrated the work of those working in education before describing the effects of austerity and accountability on the small West Yorkshire infant and nursery school where she is head teacher.
“I want to say loudly and clearly now and throughout my year as president – yes, this is a difficult job, but it is a most wonderful job. Schools are such special places full of activity, creativity, optimism and positivity” – ones in which you can see “fully grown adults whoop for joy and punch the air”, she said.
“If the children and the teachers in a school are confident and successful, that is because the school is led with confidence and courage,” Judy continued. “But these are changing, difficult and unsteady times for school leaders and I have my share of sleepless nights.”
Her school has been “paring down, pruning, reducing, restructuring, not replacing” for three years, she said, and has lost a teacher and 75 hours of teaching assistant time per week, leaving fewer adults to give children their attention and increasing workload for remaining staff.
She cannot balance the budget for the next three years without more cuts. “Those in power say more money than ever is going into our schools. This is misleading and disingenuous. The demands on that money are greater than ever before,” she told delegates.
“Our school is a small school, and as I stare at the figures on the spreadsheets I can feel the threat. To those who say small schools are not viable, I say they are vital. I will do all I can to make sure the school remains at the heart of its community as a supportive and sustaining first point of contact for families.”
Judy went on to speak of the recruitment and retention crisis – with many vacancies remaining unfilled – and her concerns about accountability and Ofsted. “A fair and proportionate accountability system can be a force for good – challenging underperformance; acting as a catalyst for improvement,” she said.
“We are in no doubt however that the current system is causing more harm than good, with perverse incentives, unintended consequences, sometimes unequal treatment of schools in different circumstances, and a negative impact on the workload of teachers and leaders.”
“This is our time and I am proud to be part of NAHT,” she concluded. “We are growing. We are a community. We deliver reasoned argument and alternative solutions to ensure policies are founded in evidence and research, rather than ideology and whim. We draw upon the experience, knowledge and wisdom of 30,000 school leaders, those doing the job day in and day out, as we stand and face those in power.”
Watch the full speech below.
First published 09 May 2019