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19 July 2002

Unite To Defend Public Services

GORDON BROWN'S announcement of extra cash for education will be welcomed by parents and teachers - but many will be wondering why it's taken so long to deliver extra funding when education was meant to be New Labour's top priority!

Martin Powell-Davies, Lewisham NUT

Brown says he wants to tackle past decades of chronic under-investment. Well successive governments - including his own - have certainly left schools under-funded and understaffed. Most of Brown's promised 15 billion will be needed just to repair the damage done by years of under-funding. It will still fall well short of the 7% of national income even Blairite Peter Mandelson has admitted is really needed.

Schools have only been kept going by teachers putting in 50-60 hour working weeks. Small wonder many are quitting the job. Only a guarantee of manageable workload and decent pay will reverse the haemorrhaging of qualified staff. But Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, calls a 35 hour week for teachers "potty".

Brown also made clear that he has no intention of rewarding the staff that are keeping our public services going, demanding responsibility in setting public sector pay. Council workers and teachers need to take united action to win the salary increases they deserve.

Teachers are also being driven out by the drudgery of lessons dictated by the demands of National Curriculum tests. Yet Brown's cash will be dependent on schools meeting even more targets. This will mean more pressure to concentrate on sterile teaching to the test.

Successful schools will be rewarded with more money - like the specialist schools New Labour propose to use to break-up comprehensive education. Other cash will be directed to divisive schemes like City Academies.

But it's the schools at the bottom of the league tables, in areas of greatest poverty, that need the most support. Instead Brown threatened them with closure, apparently resurrecting the discredited Fresh Start scheme.

Of course, while state schools struggle, independent schools can rely on better resources and smaller class sizes! Every child should have the same chance of a decent education as the sons and daughters of the wealthy!