It’s not hard to see why education is an issue in this general election. Socialist Resistance asked NUT activist Jon Duveen to explain what is happening.
After seven years of Tory coalition or Tory direct rule, every phase of education is in crisis; state nursery schools are closing, primary and secondary schools are making teachers and other workers redundant, post 16 colleges are fighting to maintain their independence. The immediate cause of this crisis is the attempt by the Tories to make education, as part of the public sector, pay for the financial crisis.
The data on the impact of these funding cuts in education on schools is clear. 93% of all schools in England will have their per pupil funding cut by 2020. For primary schools this cut will amount to £86,951 on average and for secondary schools this will be an average of £370,298 per school. Each pupil will bring in £338 less on average for each primary school and £436 on average for each secondary school. These are average figures and will vary across the country. In Cambridgeshire, schools will lose almost £24m by 2019/2020, a cut of 7% in school funding.
This level of cuts will have significant effects on schools. Class sizes will rise, support staff in schools will be cut, books and resources will be cut and specialised support of those with special needs will be cut. Already schools are trimming their curriculum offer not just to meet these cuts but also to try and make the most of the Tory Governments insistence on academic subjects to the detriment of the more ‘airy-fairy’ subjects like the arts and the technical subjects.
In the Early Years sector, the situation is even more dire. The Tories are seeking to change the funding formula by which local authorities fund nursery schools and classes. The proposed formula will seek to level down the funding to that of the provision by the private, independent and voluntary (PVI) sector. What this means is the death of local authority nursery schools as they by law have to have a head teacher and to employ some qualified teachers. This makes them more ‘expensive’ than those in the PVI sector. Already, in many places, we have seen struggles to defend local authority early years provision. In some places schools are moving to close their nursery classes and make them PVI provision again for financial reasons.
However, this financial crisis in education is not new. It was true in the 2015 election but didn’t result in education being so high in the public concern. What has caused this difference? Here there are three main reasons; the change in teacher trade unionism, the changes in the Labour Party and the priorities of the Tory Party in education.
The largest of the teacher trade unions, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), has changed its ways of campaigning. It has learnt from the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012. Instead of seeing its campaigning on education as the union taking action and expecting, or hoping, that others would follow their lead, they saw the necessity of constructing alliances with other organisations to defend education. This approach has shown its potential in the defeat of the Government’s attempts to keep baseline assessment in schools and in campaigning to defeat SATs.
This approach has also allowed the NUT to develop one of the most successful social media tools for struggle yet devised, the school cuts website; www.schoolcuts.com . This website, now supported by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) and the GMB, has become the reference point for all those opposed to the Tory cuts in education to find out what is being proposed in their area and their schools.
Activists have been able to use the information on the website to develop leaflets aimed at the parents in a particular school and develop campaigns based on clear information. The website has not only helped develop parent campaigns around education, e.g. Fair Funding For All Schools (www.fairfundingforallschool.org/) but has also become the source of accurate information for the media, politicians, head teachers and all those campaigning for education reform. The latest version of this website shows how the policies of the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats on funding will affect each school in England and had 3 million views in the 3 days after its relaunch on May 28.
For too long Labour Party policy on Education was a pale imitation of the Tories. It generally supported, or at least not actively opposed, the changes the Tories have brought in over the last seven years. Under Corbyn, the Labour Party has reviewed its policies on Education and is now committed to put £25bn into education. It developed the idea of a National Education Service (NES), which like the National Health Service would be free at the point of need. The NES would be based on the principle that ‘Every Child – and Adult– Matters’.
Within this framework they have developed policies for all phases of education. Within the Early Years sector they propose to provide a system of ‘high-quality childcare places in mixed environments with direct government subsidy’ and extend the 30 free hours to all two year olds as well as start to reverse the closures of many Sure Start centres. On schools they have developed a range of policies that many in the teacher unions have been campaigning for; to reduce class sizes in primary schools, free school meals for all primary school children, paid for by removing the VAT exemption on private school fees, abandon baseline assessments, review Key Stage 1 and 2 SATs, extend school based counselling to all schools, end the pay cap in the public sector, make schools democratically accountable and ‘to see that they serve the public interest and their local communities’. Together this gives a vision of hope for moving education out of the ‘Gradgrind’ existence it has become under the Tories.
The Tory manifesto has very few commitments on education. The headline one is the commitment to ‘lift the ban on the establishment of selective schools’. So much for governing on behalf of the many, not the few. If one policy sums up their view it is this desire to extend secondary modern education for the majority of children and create some grammar schools for the few. They also pledge to extend the free school and academy programmes and to review admissions policies but to rule out any ‘lottery-based’ allocation.
In terms of the curriculum their proposals will again result narrowing the offer. They want 90% of students to study English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) subjects by 2025; English, Maths, History or Geography, Sciences and a language. The outcome of this is that arts and technical subjects will be forced out of the school curriculum with consequent teacher redundancies. This version of education is intensely depressing for the present and future school population and must be fought against.
These three factors have pushed education so high up the political agenda that it was the third most tweeted about subject in manifesto week. Many parents have become involved in setting up school based or area groups to campaign for an increase in funding for all schools and to link up with teacher activists in the schools. This gives us the possibility of reversing many of the policies of the Tories and opening the doors to real hope for changes in education.