Education update: The recession hits public education

Proletarian writers

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The government has announced that spending cuts are planned in a number of areas of education. The city academies in particular, which up to now have been receiving a disproportionate level of funding on account of their blazing a trail for the privatisation of education in general, have been told to ‘tighten their belts’ in preparation for significant funding cuts.

The truth is that many schools are already in deep financial difficulties as a result of reduced funding (in real terms) and having to pay for the PFI deals that were imposed on them.

Amelia Hill and Max Rashbrooke, writing in The Observer of 30 August, note that “the costs of planning and setting up new schools have soared by 50 percent under the government’s rebuilding programme, with one council paying consultants £24m before a single building had even been constructed. The massive rises in the cost of new privately financed schools … have contributed to the bill for the government’s flagship school rebuilding programme spiralling from £45bn to £55bn.

Such are the fruits of privatisation. It is worth noting that in Cuba, a relatively impoverished, tiny Caribbean country, education continues to go from strength to strength. The problem is not the recession per se; the problem is capitalism.

Higher grades, but no jobs or higher education

Pupils, parents, press and politicians enjoyed a rare moment of shared joy this August, as GCSE and A-level results were substantially higher than last year. In the euphoria, it was only a handful of commentators that noticed a worrying trend: the poverty gap in education is widening. Just 21 percent of children on free school meals got five or more A*-C grades at GCSE, compared to 49 percent of those not on free school meals.

Unfortunately, despite record results, it is estimated that 170,000 university applicants will be turned down this year, up from 132,000 last year and 120,000 in 2007. (See ‘Bright pupils miss out on place’, BBC News Online, 29 August 2009)

Owing to lack of funds, universities have put strict limits on the number of places they are offering. Owing to lack of jobs, more and more youngsters are applying to university. Meanwhile, those who are lucky enough to get places are getting saddled with enormous and ever-rising debts. BBC News Online of 18 August reported that debt levels in England have risen by 10 percent in the last year alone. (‘New students “face £23,000 debt”’)

Presumably, this is at least partly due to the decreased availability of part-time jobs. The inevitable outcome of this is that working-class young people will be increasingly squeezed out of higher education.

Interestingly, the introduction of tuition fees appears not to have improved the financial situation of the universities one bit. On the contrary, funding for teaching at England’s universities is being cut by 1.36 percent next year in order to save costs. (The Independent, 30 July 2009).

Although tuition fees were sold to the public on the basis that they would be used to bolster universities’ coffers, they have in fact just been used as a cash-saving device for Westminster.

According to BBC News Online of 18 August, “record numbers of young people are not in school, college or work in England”; the number of ‘Neets’ (government term for those young people not in employment, education or training) has increased from 730,000 to 835,000 in the last year (a 15 percent increase), leaving more than one in six young people without either job or prospects. In the London Borough of Hackney, 29 percent of young people are not in employment or education.

Blame the parents

Amazingly, the National Association of Head Teachers is choosing this moment to accuse parents of “jeopardising pupils’ education” by failing to settle bills for breakfast clubs, after school clubs and school trips.

Chris Howard, president of the NAHT, stated recently that “parents who won’t pay are, in fact, cutting the activities and hindering the education of their own children and others in school”. (BBC News Online, 25 August 2009)

Mr Howard has chosen to ignore the difficult question of why parents have to pay for these services at all. According to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the average cost to parents of having a child in secondary school is around £1,200 per year, once you take into account uniforms, school trips, school dinners and voluntary contributions.

It isn’t hard to imagine that this is a tough cost to bear for many families (especially when you consider that lots of families will have more than one child in school). Making parents pay for ‘extras’ is a form of creeping privatisation, much like the extortionate parking costs at many hospitals. We demand that state education be properly funded!