Have Schools Always Been Broke?

geronimo-gonzalez-giqueaux-1367646-unsplash.jpgStories of overstretched schools relying on goodwill from the public are becoming the norm but has it always been this way? Have schools always been counting the pennies or were they flush with cash back in the good old days?

As a Teacher…

My HOD kept the supplies under lock-and-key, protected them from the geography team upstairs and maths team just down the way. At the beginning of every half term, my colleagues and I would approach her classroom sheepishly and ask for the meagre rations of equipment we’d need to see us through the next few weeks.

When essential supplies ran dangerously low I’d dip into a discount stationery shop and pick up some pens and pencils just to make sure the students had something to work with. As a teacher, you almost ask yourself why you wouldn’t. You want the best for your students.

Running out of exercise books was a bigger problem and when the dam inevitably began to burst, you’d not need 1 new book but approximately 20+ as several students finish books all at once. I always told them the truth. I’d say that we have run out. Often they’ll ask why/how a school runs out of books and I was quite polite but forthright: we can’t afford new ones at the moment but the new ones will be here soon.

The iPads (all 17 of them) were a coveted prize. One trolley for the entire school and the waiting list rivalled that of a Michelin-starred restaurant – even if the reality of using them was far from a gourmet experience. Three were often perpetually broken, a few more had frayed charging wires and all of them were covered in grubby fingerprints with selfies as the background. Of course, the broken ones remained broken and the number of iPads eventually dwindled into single digits.

As a Student…

During your days as a school student, you’re a step removed from what goes on behind the curtain. You assume your teacher lives at school, you brought your own equipment because you feared detention and the concept that running a school had a financial cost was beyond your comprehension.

Growing up, my school was run-down, old and shabby. The wooden fixtures getting a lick of painting over the summer was a big deal. In year 10, the new (pre-fab and highly plastic) English block was an absolute marvel to behold and we almost wanted to cry with joy when the new football pitches made of artificial grass sprang up over the Easter break. So on the surface, it seems like the school must’ve been rolling in the cash.

In retrospect, the nice shiny stuff could’ve just been window-dressing – little extras if you will. The music department had a woeful selection of instruments, the art supplies were lacking, you had to race to find a computer that didn’t ‘Blue Screen’ randomly and the science textbooks had obligatory genitals on every page and a few instances of ‘So-and-so was here’ from a decade ago.

I suppose all of that stuff was just ‘normal’ to me at the time, but it hit home for me then as perhaps it did for my students when I asked for a new exercise book. In the immortal words of my then-English teacher as he rolled his eyes: “No, you can’t have a new book. Apparently, we can’t afford them. But at least the new footie pitch looks nice.”

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