Paul Jackson is an Executive Headteacher with a passion for putting creativity and playfulness at the heart of school design and leadership. Here he reflects on the process of establishing a new music centre for a school and how having a strong vision can be as important as a budget.
I was Headteacher at Gallions Primary School in Newham for 7 and a half years. During that time, we had many visitors and when showing them around the school many of them asked the same question. “How can you afford to do all this?” I guess the right response is “how can we afford not to do all this?”
"We knew that just doing what other schools do would not be enough."
Gallions opened in 1999 on the Winsor Park Estate. It is recognised as one of the 5% most deprived areas in the UK. Back in 1999, behaviour was terrible, attitudes to learning appalling and parental engagement almost non-existent. We knew that just doing what other schools do would not be enough. We needed to create an offer that inspired children, engaged them and compensated for any lack of experience that they had.
We had to go beyond teaching the children to ‘read and write’, but in doing this we would of course make the children better readers, writers and mathematicians.
This was at a time when budgets for the creative arts were more generous – never as generous as we wanted them to be – but more generous than they are now. We took advantage of Creative Partnerships funding, and of other funds that were available.
But when these funds dried up, Gallions continued with the vision of wanting to teach through the creative arts. We wanted to offer Music, Dance, Drama and Art to all children - to teach creatively wherever appropriate. In wanting to do this, it was necessary to also be creative in the approach to funding and school leadership.
I hadn’t fully understood what we had done until a recent meeting. I had been in conversation with the original architect of the school from 1999. He was interested in the Gallions ‘journey’ and how the school had evolved, both as a physical space, but also in its ethos.
He summed up the meeting with this:
“Most schools are given a budget at the start of the year and write their plans to fit the budget. – This is traditional budgeting.”
“At Gallions, what you have done is different. You have a vision, a plan for what you want to achieve. You write this in the plan and make the budget work towards this. If there is not enough funding in the main delegated budget, then you find the funding from elsewhere. This is how things happen at Gallions.”
"You have a vision, a plan for what you want to achieve. You write this in the plan and make the budget work towards this."
It’s true. At Gallions, every child from the age of 6 plays a stringed instrument, there is an artist in residence, a state of the art Sensory Room, Soft-play room and wider-autistic provision. The school grounds offer a wide-range of opportunities. There is a chef-in-residence with a specialist cooking area and a gardener-in-residence with a greenhouse and raised beds for teaching children.
The Music Centre that has just been completed was an approx. £500,000 project. If we had sat down with the budget and even projected forward over the next 5 years to hold back a small surplus each year, the Music Centre project would never have got off the ground. But we were determined. Determined that the children we teach will get the offer that we dreamed of. Without the Music Centre, the music programme and so much else of the creative offer at Gallions would have been under threat.
"If we have a vision and make the right choices, anything is possible."
I remember the blank-sheet of paper, ready to soak up the ideas at the very first meeting where we discussed the concept of the Music Centre: the generous Governor who agreed to fund the feasibility study into whether it was actually possible; the partnerships we built; the people we sold the vision to. who agreed to help fund the building; The self-generated income plan we made to bring money into the school budget; the meeting with the business manager to look at the budget to see where costs could be saved in order to contribute further; never accepting the first price for anything and negotiating every contract.
There were tough choices along the way. The staff got sick of my telling them not to photocopy so much and turn the lights off! These were just small things that contributed to the overall ‘cost-effectiveness’ of the school and enabled resources to be put into what is essential - ensuring that the staff we have are essential, that money is not wasted on unnecessary purchasing. To achieve the original vision we had to ensure all the resources both human and physical are well looked after.
If we have a vision and make the right choices, anything is possible. There are many barriers that can stop us achieving our dreams but we should not let funding be one of them.
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