The Socialist 20 March 2019 |
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Cash-strapped schools now 'fourth emergency service': strike to fight the cuts
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Jamie Elliot, school teacher and National Education Union rep
Increasing numbers of schools are having to provide clothing, laundry facilities and food parcels to their students due to a decade of austerity leaving many vulnerable children in poverty.
This damning indictment of Tory Britain comes from a recent survey of headteachers carried out by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL). School finances are already at breaking point, with ASCL conference warning of a £5.7 billion funding shortfall and further cuts to already-threadbare budgets.
The fact that schools now act as a 'fourth emergency service', at the same time as struggling to find the resources to educate our students, lays bare the cruelty of capitalist austerity and the desperate need for a socialist alternative.
I have seen the impact of austerity first-hand at my academy, where I have been both a teacher and a pastoral leader. My school is in a highly deprived area of Bradford, and it is all too common to see students come into school hungry, wearing ripped and unwashed uniforms.
We provide a free breakfast to all students, and a free hot meal at lunch to those classed as 'disadvantaged'. I worry about our students during the school holidays - are they able to get a decent meal?
Bradford Labour's local cuts have also left council services in a desperate state. It is nearly impossible to get access to mental health support for our students, and I know of many who are going back to unstable and possibly dangerous households because the cuts-making council does not deem their situation 'serious' enough to get support.
This story is not unique to Bradford. With child poverty predicted to reach a historic high of 37% by 2022 according to the Resolution Foundation, this will become the new normal for the working class in Britain.
Strike action by school unions is essential if we want to reverse these cuts and win proper funding for our schools. The recent strike at Valentine Primary School in Southampton is an inspiration for teachers and students nationally.
But individual schools should not be left to fight alone. We need a national strategy, linked with trade union action against austerity in every sector. This could also force the general election we badly need.
And unions should demand that Labour councillors pass no-cuts budgets using reserves and borrowing, while mobilising workers and communities to fight for full funding from the government.
To secure a decent future for young people, we need to fight for the socialist transformation of society. Where wealth is no longer in the hands of the 1%, and workers and students can democratically plan resources to guarantee the wellbeing and education of young people, rather than profits for the super-rich.