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The start of the school year always brings much excitement and opportunity.

It might be students joining primary school or a secondary school for the first time or preparing to embark on GCSEs or A-levels.

Likewise, it might be staff members preparing for a new position or starting a new school themselves.

Whatever the scenario, I am sure there has been lots of excited chatter, welcome back’s and catching up over a hopefully enjoyable summer break.

But, as in previous years, the start of school in September will also bring its own challenges.

In the last two years, the pandemic has dominated our thoughts, and our planning, with all schools showing great flexibility and commitment to deal with everything that came their way.

Now the education system, and the entire country, is faced with a new challenge – one, I know, everyone can sympathise with at this time.

As the new year starts, school staff across Unity Schools Partnership are very conscious of the financial pressures affecting children and their families, with both the rapid rise in the cost of living caused by fast-increasing inflation and the frightening prospect of such large increases in energy bills.

To combat this, the trust has set up a hardship fund where senior staff can make recommendations of funding to support the food bills of families particularly challenged at this time.

The trust is also supporting its staff with, meeting in full, the larger-than-expected national pay rises to all staff – both teachers and support staff.

In addition, the trust has a 365/24-7 wellbeing service which provides support to staff and their families on a range of matters including financial wellbeing, budgeting and practical advice on how to manage money and debt.

We are continuing to look at ways to enhance our benefit schemes and are working proactively with a number of providers to find low-cost discount schemes for teachers and those working in education.

Of course, I write this as a new Prime Minister is announced and speculation that freezing energy bills will be one of Liz Truss’ first jobs.

We wait and see how this will impact on schools – positively, we hope – and, likewise, we wait and see the immediate plans of new Education Secretary Kit Malthouse.

It has been a turbulent time in Government and we are all looking for some much-needed stability.

In weeks to come, we may have a better idea of what to expect, consider and plan for.

One thing is for certain. Just as our schools have done so over the last few years, I know they will do everything to ensure all students get the best possible education.

And in the week students return to school, we just look forward to watching – and supporting – their progress every step of the way.

Tim Coulson, Chief Executive, Unity Schools Partnership

Photo credit: Castle Manor Academy