Around the country state school governors’ meetings are facing impossible choices as they try to keep their schools going while struggling with shrinking budgets and rising costs – a task that is being made all the harder by the new funding formula proposed by education secretary Justine Greening. As has become usual in the political spin that accompanies austerity cuts on social provision, Ms Greening’s proposals fail to take into account the fact that where financial savings can be made, they mostly have been already.
Music lessons, including school choirs and orchestras, that take place outside of school hours or that require an outside teacher, have been scrapped in many schools that previously had them. Sessions with mental health counsellors for those children who need them have been cut (or are planned to be cut), or the full charges for these and similar services are being put on to parents, regardless of their circumstances.
Even the heating is being lowered in many non-PFI (private finance initiative) schools to try to lower costs. In PFI schools, of course, the level of heating is at the sole discretion of the owner of the building, even though it is the school that has to pay the bill, and so the heating is often on even during summer to keep the charges high.
Staff, of course, are being cut as far as is possible, with teachers finding their hours of paid work reduced to as low as level as possible. More and more tasks (including a seemingly unstoppable explosion of documentation and paperwork) are expected to be squeezed into this limited time, while marking and lesson preparation work – a core part of teachers’ workload – are now expected to be carried out in the teacher’s own time. Teaching assistants, once seen as a cheap alternative to using fully-qualified teachers for much of the work in a classroom, are seeing many of their posts simply disappear, leaving the main classroom teachers to shoulder the extra burdens. Inevitably, the one-to-one help that teaching assistants often give to those that need it, will disappear.
The National Audit Office has recently published a report saying that schools will lose £3bn, or 8 percent per pupil, in real-terms funding by 2020. The government says that there will be winners and losers under the new formula, and claims that only those who can afford it will be looking at cuts, while the ‘excess’ thus produced will be redirected to the most needy 50 percent. The government’s own report, however, states: “Based on our experience in other parts of government, this approach involves significant risks.” (Financial sustainability of schools, NAO.org.uk, 14 December 2016)
The schoolcuts.org.uk website, run by a coalition of teaching, head teacher and other unions, estimates that overall 99 percent of schools will have funding per pupil cut in real terms. The average loss to primary schools will be £103,754, or £403 per pupil, and to secondary schools £470,433, or £554 per pupil. If these figures are anywhere near correct, and we suspect that, at a minimum, they will be, this shows that the winners, if any, will be a very small minority indeed!
Another method already being used by schools to cut costs is that of raising class sizes. Back when primary class sizes were raised to 30 we were told that the ‘teaching assistant’ would help to control the larger classroom and make sure that some children didn’t simply ‘get lost’. But, as teaching assistants look set to become a very scarce commodity, the classes will now become larger still, with the middle 30s and above being talked about as the new average. (For useful information on class sizes, see ClassSizeMatters.org)
One thing many of us who went through the state school system remember from our childhood is the school trip. It was a day out somewhere exciting, to be looked forward to, enjoyed on the day, and learned from for weeks after. But these important educational outings are now rapidly becoming a thing of the past, as all the accompanying costs are put solely onto parents, many of whom are finding that they simply cannot afford them. Of course, if some children can’t go, then the costs inevitably rise for those who can, and the children missing out must be looked after at school, which in turn means there is a need for extra staffing and the extra funding that goes along with it.
With nearly all these factors already in play, the question of how to cope with the future financial restrictions (cuts) that most schools are once again bracing themselves for, brings with it the likelihood of thousands more so-called ‘failed’ schools.
In reality, of course, it is the capitalist system that has failed and is failing, but in the process it is labelling not only our cash-strapped schools but also our children as failures when they are unable to meet the ever-changing targets that are constantly being thrust on them by each new frontperson for the privatisation process (sorry, ‘education secretary’). Because, of course, there is some method to this madness. The ‘failed’ schools are just waiting to be snapped up and run by road-builders, bakeries, shoemakers and so on – educational ‘experts’ who can look forward to being subsidised with huge amounts of money from the public purse in order to ‘turn around’ these ‘failing’ establishments.
The general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters-Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), Chris Keates, commenting on the proposed formula, said: “The devil will be in the detail of the government’s proposals for reform to the school funding system, and it will be important that the details are considered carefully,” adding: “A key challenge the government faces in securing a fair funding system is a legacy of the last six years of misguided economic austerity, which has been to the detriment of schools and pupils.” (See NASUWT comments on national funding formula proposals, 20 December 2016)
Only the last six years, Mr Keates? Was PFI not a flagship policy of Labour’s 15 years in office? Was it not, in fact, a Labour creation? Was the general attack on the state education system, those who work in it and those who are supposed to learn from it, suspended during that 15-year term of Labour party management of British imperialism, Mr Keates? Ask any mathematics teacher, Mr Keates – if you only use half the equation for your deliberations, your answer to the problem will always be wrong. The Labour party is just as guilty as the Tories and LibDems for the parlous state of our ‘free at the point of use’ education system and equally culpable in its imminent crash.
Mr Keates continued: “After years of austerity [more than six!], which have increased pressures on schools, the funding reforms must be managed in a way that does not add to the existing pressures on schools or result in ‘knee-jerk’ responses that increase the burdens placed on teachers.”
What does this mean, coming as it does from the general secretary of the biggest teachers’ union? The ‘funding reforms’ (or ‘cuts’, if you wish to use honest, straightforward language), can hardly do other than add to the existing pressures on schools! Until such union leaders as Mr Keates not only say that they are prepared to lead a fight against cuts but actually mean that they will lead that fight, their words will have no resonance with the teachers they claim to represent. Nor will they be taken seriously by the parliamentary managers of the bourgeois state (whichever party happens to be in office) who are implementing those cuts.
The state education system, like the NHS, is increasingly on its last legs, and, also like the NHS, will only be rebuilt properly when the present political system is overthrown. Once the working people, the vast majority, are in charge of all production and all social provision – and of the state and society as a whole – it will, of course, be a priority for them to create an education system that serves the needs of children and society alike.
In the meantime, let us not be fooled by the weasel words about ‘efficiency’, ‘improvement’, ‘standards’ and so on that emanate from the politicians and media pundits who serve the capitalist class. If we wish to preserve what is left of our publicly funded education system, we are going to have to organise ourselves to fight tooth and nail for it. It will certainly not be preserved out of the good-heartedness of the powers that be.
Those currently running the education system do not care a jot for the suffering they inflict on working people. They do not care about the lives that are blighted by ignorance, or the tremendous creative powers that are lost to society when so many working-class children are denied what should be a basic right: the chance to develop their capabilities and to grow up to make a useful and meaningful contribution to society. Since the capitalists cannot find a profitable use for every worker, they see no advantage in having large numbers of them educated for the dole queue.
Oppose all cuts and privatisation in education; defend our children’s future!
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