Spending a great deal of my time in and out of schools it strikes me that there are possibly many simplicities to explore.
The school income is determined by the number of children attending. If the number on roll is healthy, then, like any good business, decisions about current and proposed future spending are relatively secure. Having sufficient staff or up-to-date ICT equipment can depend on the simplicity of “bums on seats”. Losing children over a short time scale pus all decisions into limbo; you need adequate income to survive.
Budgets buy staff, which buys time, to release staff to undertake development activities. Budget limitations limit development, unless staff are prepared to do that in their own time, which many do, through teachmeets, Pedagoo or similar.
A school exists within the walls created for it by an architect for the time that it was built, so schools operating within Victorian buildings may have heritage and some advantages to celebrate, but also the limitations of ageing systems. More modern buildings quite often have flat roofs, which can bring a greater number of issues that need addressing. Keeping a building up together and in a positive state of repair has, in the past, been a Local Authority issue. If the processes have been followed, a rotational system should ensure that every so many years the school is decorated, at least outside and if lucky, wooden, single glazed windows replaced with double glazed PVC, reducing future maintenance. Academy chains may well have a different approach to building maintenance.
Buildings provide the space within which the school operates. Visionary strategic use of space can make the systems work well, whereas a simpler view may mean that there are unforeseen issues that have to be addressed afterwards.
The grounds and the building are the first selling points of the school. A run down, uncared-for appearance will deter applications, parents, children and potential staff.
There are essential basic resources, and then there are the “nice to haves”, which can be capital intensive. The staffing and resource base of the school are determined by the income; if there’s not enough in the pot, you can’t buy things. On the other hand, some schools have a surfeit of riches and cupboards full of spare resources.
Teachers need resources to be able to teach. With the larger number of schools being well equipped, any school not as well-endowed is likely to struggle to attract high quality staff.
Although every school is a collective of staff, teachers and non-teaching staff, there can be very significant differences between staffrooms. The longevity of a headteacher can impact positively, through continual development of practice, or negatively, by keeping things the same as it has always been. A new headteacher may well feel less secure, as will new staff, so a large number of NQTs and new staff may well take time to settle. Turnover of staff does not enable a collective memory to be built or retained.
There seem to be three messages, we aim to, we do, we always have. Each shares a different message to prospective staff, who then fit that with their own career aspirations. It also tells the story of where the school sees itself in development terms.
The number of applicants for each role is likely to be a very significant factor. If one school gets tens of applications and another receives less than a handful, the scale of decision is very different. The available quality therefore might be of a different order. Schools need teachers and support staff. If not enough apply, then, with the need to appoint, some qualities can be compromised.
The visual evidence and the convincing, developing, positive nature of the headteacher/school narrative is likely to be key to success in this area.
This is another changeable variable, in that, over time an area can alter as houses are bought and sold, or in the case of social housing, different groups arrive. Some schools serve communities that rarely change, as generation follows generation.
The amount of pupil “turbulence” has a significant impact on the school. It is a truism though, that the more you have the better you get at dealing with it, as long as the staff stay sufficiently long to be able to use this understanding and to mentor new staff appropriately. Otherwise, there can be slight chaos.
The context is totally out of a school’s control.
A school is where it is, with the range of factors that impact, over time. Change is inevitable and with it a different dynamic emerges within the school. This can sometimes be rapid and catastrophic.
Therefore a school has to work with what it has, provide the best possible education it can and support each child to reach the best point they can. Being able to describe where the school is in dynamic terms, is always likely to be challenging, but is the reality for many.