Today signals the end of the Spring term across our schools and it also marks the end of my first term as Director of Education for the Diocese of Oxford. Over the past three months, I have relished the whistle-stop nature of my role and in a recent report I produced was able to reflect on a range of activities that are both varied and diverse. Undoubtedly, the highlights of my first term have been my visits to schools. What I have seen has both inspired and humbled me. Often working in challenging circumstances, our schools are acting as reservoirs of hope for their communities. This is at the same time as frequently dealing with incredible financial and social pressures. Information received from the Department of Education under a freedom of information request illustrates the scale of the problem. The figures show that over 50 per cent of Church of England primary schools are now having to cut front line staff to set a balanced budget. On current funding levels this figure rises to over 70 per cent within two years. For us that means that circa 200 schools across the Diocese of Oxford will be in the position of having to cut teaching and/or support staff. This is at the same time as having to address societal challenges of an increasingly acute nature. The responsibilities placed on schools this week regarding the prevention of knife crime serve to illustrate this pressure. Therefore, even more than ever our schools should be in our thoughts and prayers at this current time.

The cyclical nature of the academic year also heralds departures and farewells at the end of a term. This week I was pleased to attend one such farewell in Wantage. Simon Spiers is the current Chief Executive Officer of the Vale Academy Trust and his retirement event was an opportunity to celebrate his contribution to education in South Oxfordshire over two decades. Simon’s commitment to making a difference to the lives of children and young people has been immense. I was able to see this for myself in a visit to Wantage Church of England Primary School. There in the company of Simon and the headteacher, Andy Browne, I was privileged to witness children flourishing in a wonderful learning environment. Simon takes with him our heartfelt gratitude and best wishes for a happy retirement. We look forward to welcoming Richard Evans, his successor as CEO to the diocese after Easter.

Finally, with such a busy start to my tenure as Director of Education I was delighted to be invited to be part of Bishop Steven’s My (extraordinary) family. This is part of Bishop Steven’s regular blog and is a series of podcasts with him in conversation with a variety of people across the Diocese of Oxford. During our chat, we were able to reflect on the term and developments in schools generally. In particular, I relished the chance to be more contemplative as we look back on events since Christmas and prepare for Holy Week.

In-sight will be taking a break from your screens over the holiday but will return on Friday 26th April. In the meantime, I wish everyone an advanced happy Easter!

Tony