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Children suffer as the cuts deepen
Mike Whale, NUT Hull and Olive Nicholson, Unison
Are children becoming more naughty and violent? If so, why?
Many teachers have commented recently that there has been a rise in "challenging behaviour" from children they teach in schools in general and in special schools in particular.
The Socialist has explained before that successive governments, Tory and Labour, have turned schools into exam factories. Many schools threatened by Ofsted inspectors and government targets are more concerned with league table performance than an individual pupil's experience at school.
Pupils are increasingly forced to study subjects which might get them a GCSE at A* to C. In some cases this can mean pupils in secondary schools spending 30% or more of their time studying Maths or English. No wonder some students rebel against school authority.
While the character of schools is a major factor in explaining why some pupils challenge authority, it doesn't give the full picture. The last five years has seen a steady cutting away of funding to children and young people's services.
These cuts - which politicians of all the main political parties have justified as being to 'non-essential' services - are now impacting in schools themselves.
A whole network of support services which has been mostly run by the social services side of children's services has been cut away. Young people with complex needs previously would have been able to access specialist support and guidance as a right.
Now, their unresolved problems are being increasingly brought into schools. Teachers and school support staff do their best to help but face competing pressure on their time.
Social work experts together with children's charities paint a devastating picture of what life is now like for poor and vulnerable children today. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) estimates that there are 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK.
That's 27% of children - more than one-in-four. Statistically the link between poverty and poorer educational attainment is irrefutable.
According to CPAG: "By 16, children receiving free school meals (a key indicator of poverty) achieve 1.7 grades lower at GCSE than their wealthier peers. Leaving school with fewer qualifications translates into lower earnings over the course of a working life".
Low wages and cuts to benefits are institutionalising a cycle of deprivation and lost life chances. The scary thing is that CPAG estimate that the number of children in poverty will rise to 4.7 million by 2020, when the Tory welfare cuts have been implemented.
As the standard of living for many people deteriorates, so the worst aspects of human behaviour can become more apparent. While the overwhelming majority of poor families provide a caring and loving home life, poverty can lead to despair for some.
There has been a rise in alcoholism and drug abuse directly linked to the rise in poverty. This in turn can lead to parents neglecting their children.
The NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) states that: "The number of people calling the NSPCC's helpline to report concerns about children has risen 228% in five years... referrals to social services have increased significantly, and last year saw the highest recorded number of referrals for children in England. The number of children in the child protection system has increased by 80% since 2002."
But, while the demand for children's social care has risen, Tory cuts have meant that increasingly heavy loads are becoming unsustainable for those trying to provide that support.
Enver Solomon, director of 'evidence and impact' at the National Children's Bureau, argues that: "Children's social care is under considerable strain as demand increases from families who are struggling to cope and children who are in need of care and protection."
Increasingly, despite the very best efforts of hard pressed care workers, children are not getting the support they need or deserve. Problems which might have been sorted out of school are left unresolved.
A similar picture emerges for those children suffering from mental health issues. As the preventative services in health and local councils are cut, so children are not given the help they need until such time as they have a major breakdown. At this point, the damage can be irreversible.
Meanwhile, an increasingly disengaged, unwell and angry layer of young people are coming into our schools with fewer and more stretched support services to help them.
They challenge in the mainstream schools until such time as they are moved to a special school. With the best will in the world, teachers - without the necessary resources - will not be able to provide the specialist support these children need and teach normal classes.
At just the worst time, many schools are making teaching assistants and support staff redundant due to budget pressures. There is a danger that schools will become tinder boxes.
The teacher unions need to avoid looking at education just from the standpoint of schools. Increasingly we need to campaign against all the interlinked cuts to children's services. We need to work with colleagues in the support services to fight to defend what is left but as importantly to reverse the cuts that have already been made.