By Cllr Jumbo Chan
Chancellor Philip Hammond’s “little extras” comment, made last week as he announced a one-off injection of £400 million capital funding for schools, was rightfully denounced from a multitude of fronts. It united the Shadow Education Secretary, union leaders representing all sections of the school, parents and teachers. Such unity is unsurprising, considering the long and popular sustained union and parent-led campaign to get the Government to properly fund state education.
His “little extras” mean a mere £10,000 for each primary school, and £50,000 for each secondary school. This represents but a drop in the ocean compared to the over £6.7 billion which the Government’s own National Audit Office (NAO) has calculated schools all over the country need in order to bring their buildings to purely a satisfactory level.
But schools are not just composed merely of buildings and equipment. Rather, they are communities of young people and educators, but they too are severely underserved by a wholly inadequate core schools budget. Though the government claims that it is at its highest level – £43.5bn by 2020 –when inflationary pressures as well as increasing number of students are considered, this underfunding translate into an 8% cut in real terms. Again, this failure to properly fund schools is a fact supported by both the Institute of Fiscal Studies as well as again the NAO.
In the context of the classroom, such lack of funding means less money for basic resources such as exercise sheets and reading books. Even though a shortfall of these items may be seemingly innocuous, they can have dramatically negative consequences on the education of individual student, who are forced to vie with one another for limited resources.
But what is happening is far deeper and more consequential than lack of books. Already, schools have had to make cutbacks, leading to fewer teaching assistants to support especially students with SEND, fewer experienced teachers to teach and fewer subjects to offer to aspiring students. That £10,000 is not even enough for a primary school to recruit a full-time teaching assistant shows how “little” it the amount really is. But by refusing to simply acknowledge this chronic underfunding, the Government utterly fails students and teachers.
This failure to properly fund schools is sadly not an isolated case. There has been no progress at all to address the teacher recruitment and retention crisis (which itself will be compounded by an increase in student number over the next few years). In fact, their continued failure to offer teachers any sort of real pay rise, as well as failure to tackle top-down performance-related red tape – something I have previously written about – signifies a complete disregard for the whole profession. Their previous proposals for the wholesale academisation of all schools, which was only publicly withdrawn because of large-scale outcry (including from their own backbenchers), reinforces the Government’s complete disregard for the real needs of actual in-school educators.
As Chomsky has astutely pointed, there is a “standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital”. Whilst the Government may not be currently trying to actively privatise state education (yet), their current action of weakening, atomising and marketising whole swathes of the state education system will make it – much like the NHS – ripe for privatisation in the future.
But as with the NHS, students, parents, teachers, governors and other education campaigners are fighting hard to defend a precious treasure. As a response to the Government’s woeful cuts to schools, the NEU will be balloting members to take strike action in the near future, something which is much needed. The extent to which a Corbyn National Education Service will not only repair, but perhaps more crucially, positively transform the state education system will also be reliant on the campaigning energies of the same people.
Cllr Jumbo Chan, Labour councillor (Brent), secondary school teacher and National Education Union activist