The picket line at Valentine School, 14.3.19, credit: Southampton Socialist Party (uploaded 27/03/2019)
The picket line at Valentine School, 14.3.19, credit: Southampton Socialist Party (uploaded 27/03/2019)

Mike Whale, National Education Union and Hull Socialist Party member

Schools are facing a catastrophic funding crisis. With spiralling inflation and unfunded pay awards, many head teachers have torn up existing budgets and are now struggling to balance the books. Crazy debates and discussions are starting to take place in schools among school leaderships and governing bodies:

“If we lower the heating levels by a few degrees in the winter, will we be able to keep all of the staff and would we be breaking the law?”

“If we don’t implement the pay rises, will that mean we won’t have to sack a teaching assistant?”

“Can we do a staffing restructure and lose some staff that will save us some money?”

It is ridiculous that in the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, these sorts of discussions are taking place. With Covid infections likely to rise in the autumn and winter, good ventilation is key to the safety of pupils and staff. It’s imperative that schools have the funding to heat schools to offset the impact of good ventilation. Schools shouldn’t be scrambling around looking for savings, they should be focusing on providing the best education possible for our young people!

The Tories will claim that they are increasing spending on education, but as the Institute of Fiscal Studies points out, spending per pupil in 2024 will still be 3% lower than in 2010. Liz Truss’ cabinet of public school-educated toffs care nothing for schools in poor working-class areas. Their ‘aid’ package on energy bills will be like a piece of cheap sticking plaster for many schools.

Ten years of austerity has driven down teacher pay. And the miserable 5% ‘awarded’ to teachers is a further pay cut in real terms. No wonder education staff are looking for better paid jobs elsewhere. This is particularly the case for low-paid support staff who are the ‘Cinderellas’ of education. When teaching assistants leave a school, more work falls on teachers. Greater workload further lowers morale. Low morale leads to teachers quitting and students miss out.

Education workers are currently performing mini miracles. The general problems facing society don’t stop at the school door. Staff are increasingly providing emotional support as well as food, heating and a safe environment on top of education itself to school students and their families.

It can’t go on like this. The power to force change lies with the education unions. A well-organised campaign including strike action can not only win a much-needed pay increase for all education workers but it can also force the Tories to properly fund schools and colleges.

The money is there, but it is in the pockets of the super-rich. The debate should not be: “Can we afford to heat the school?” But: “Can we afford the rich and their rotten capitalist system!”

  • The NEU indicative strike ballot over pay opens on 24 September, NASUWT are set to ballot in November