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From: The Socialist issue 1054, 4 September 2019: No ifs, no buts... Tories out now

Search site for keywords: Education - Unions - Cuts - School - Tories - Teachers - NEU - Teaching assistants - National Education Union - NUT

Money doesn't make up for cuts - education unions must organise for funding and against Tory attacks

School workers can't trust the Tories, photo by woodleywonderworks/CC

School workers can't trust the Tories, photo by woodleywonderworks/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Nicky Downes, National Education Union executive (personal capacity)

You know there's an election in the offing when the Tories say they will raise spending on education despite decimating school budgets in their previous terms of office. While the education unions have welcomed the increased funding of 14 billion over three years, it comes with worrying caveats.

In my school in Coventry in the last four years, we have lost over 650,000. That equates to a fall of 350 per pupil.

We now have fewer teaching assistants (TAs) supporting our pupils. Most classes have to share TAs across the year group.

The has meant that pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have had their support cut, while class sizes and teachers' workload have increased.

Across Coventry we have seen 40 million in cuts. There have been job losses and cuts to resources, school trips, swimming lessons and basic school supplies.

Child poverty

In some areas of the country, schools have been forced to reduce teaching time by a half - or even a whole - day per week. This is alongside a marked increase in child poverty with many local people having to use food banks to feed their families.

The Tories know that education cuts lose votes. The National Union of Teachers (NUT, now part of NEU) campaign on school budget cuts helped make education one of the biggest issues in the 2017 general election.

Even the Tories had to admit that it cost them dearly. According to polling company Survation, 10.4% of voters changed their mind about who to vote for because of the campaign - 795,000 votes.

It's no surprise that the 'magic money tree' has been shaken to increase funding now. But this isn't going to solve the crisis in education.

Teachers and other education workers have left in their droves over the last few years. This won't stem the flood.

There are no promises to reduce workload or increase SEND funding. Instead we are told that there are too many teaching assistants and the main issue in schools is poor pupil behavior.

Instead of tackling children's mental health, ending the exam factory culture or other causes of behavioral difficulties, the Tories are considering a 'zero-tolerance policy'. Staff will be given explicit powers to use 'reasonable' force against unruly pupils and permanent exclusions are to be encouraged.

Staff have always been able to use reasonable force but are understandably reluctant to do so. Permanent exclusions will lead to more pupils being referred to Pupil Referral Units which are often where drug gangs recruit to 'county lines' and other forms of exploitation and abuse.

The money won't go where it's needed most. The Tory heartlands are likely to see more of the funds than the cities. Boris' rich friends will benefit while the poorest families get the crumbs off the table.

There'll be no money to reopen youth centres, but money to continue the privatisation programme of academisation. The Tories won't be happy until every school is an academy presumably, with a private-run Pupil Referral Units attached.

The education unions, including the National Education Union, have welcomed the increase in funding but have not gone far enough to condemn the policies attached to it. We desperately need the extra funding, but it must go to areas that need it most.

Insult

Millionaire Johnson is cynically combining a headline spending pledge with attacks on education, to deflect attention away from his pro-rich and anti-working-class policies. In August, the Socialist Party described Boris' spending plans as "an insult to our intelligence".

If Johnson is promising this, there must be more money in the Tory coffers.

We shouldn't be bought off by promises of money that only account for what was likely to be added anyway. We should not be bought off by the promise of increasing newly qualified teachers' pay to 30,000 a year, as there's no increased budget for this.

The NEU executive will need to discuss the funding crisis and how we keep education at the forefront during a general election. NEU should be central to pushing the Trade Union Congress to organise a national demonstration and should link up local strikes already taking place.

We need to fight for a socialist education system, democratically run by workers, parents, pupils and the local community, that puts children and education staff at its heart.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
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