The Socialist 19 June 2019 |
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Schools unions must turn anger into a fight against funding catastrophe
The picket line at Valentine School, 14.3.19, photo Southampton Socialist Party (Click to enlarge)
Nick Chaffey, Southern Socialist Party secretary
The catastrophe facing schools cannot be exaggerated. Schools in England have lost out on £5.4 billion in Tory funding cuts since 2015.
Cuts mean less teachers, less teaching assistants and larger class sizes, with primary school classes the largest since 2000 and secondary classes the largest since 2007. Austerity-hit parents are then asked for extra cash to pay for the basics.
Combined with funding cuts, high-stakes testing means a narrow curriculum, with art, music and sport falling off the timetable. The unbearable pressure on the teachers and staff left - underpaid and overworked - has reached breaking point, reflected in a recruitment crisis.
These facts will be familiar to everyone at the 'Together for Education' conference on 22 June. This event must now be about turning anger at this crisis into action.
School strikes organised by the National Education Union are spreading across the country against cuts, closures and academisation. A head teachers' union conference agreed a motion to consider industrial action to stop school cuts.
While draconian Tory anti-trade union legislation has made national strike ballots harder to win, building active local campaigns and utilising 'disaggregated' balloting could ensure those schools willing to fight can begin a movement that would rapidly spread.
Confidence is growing from the example set by schools like Valentine Primary in Southampton. Its strike action against redundancies ensured local council support to protect staff from cuts over the next two years.
There is an urgent need to return to child-centred education, fully funded and delivered by well-trained, well-paid staff under the democratic control of local authorities. The government's proposed extra funding into schools will not be enough to undo the damage inflicted on children through a decade of Tory austerity.
A survey indicates that in 2017, the snap general election saw 800,000 votes switched on the issue of the education crisis, responding to Jeremy Crobyn's anti-austerity manifesto proposal to create a "unified National Education Service for England to move towards cradle-to-grave learning that is free at the point of use."
If Jeremy Corbyn was to call on every Labour council to use its reserves and borrowing powers to protect school budgets and commit to reimbursing all local authorities from an incoming Labour government, there would be huge support.
There must be a bold call for an immediate general election to ensure an end to school cuts and austerity, and to mobilise a massive education demo of all education trade unions, backed by the Trade Union Congress, linked to a clear commitment to build coordinated strike action against all further cuts.