NEU members struck for full funding. Photo: Martin Powell-Davies
NEU members struck for full funding. Photo: Martin Powell-Davies

Union action for the funding needed

Socialist Party member and teacher

At the Tory Party conference, Rishi Sunak announced a brand new Baccalaureate-style ‘Advanced British Standard’ qualification, combining A-Levels and T-Levels. The Department for Education (DfE) admits: “This is a long-term reform: it will take a decade to deliver in full.” But it is a reform that will never see the light of day. Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, described the announcement as “headline chasing”.

It is a smokescreen for the very real crisis that is facing education. Like the National Health Service, schools and colleges are facing a staffing shortage because of the lack of proper funding. As a result, class sizes increase. In my own college, it is not unusual to have classes of 30-35 students; in some cases, it is as high as 40.

Successive governments have created a market economy in colleges. Each student comes with an amount of government money. So, to stay ‘financially viable’, colleges have to recruit more and more students to plug funding gaps, without taking on additional staff. Workload increases and staff get burnt out.

Tory ‘error’ means more cuts

And to add insult to injury, the DfE has announced an ‘accounting error’: £370 million will be cut from the education budget for 2024-25. This amounts to around £55 per student. It doesn’t seem a lot but it leaves schools and colleges with the stark reality of having to make cuts. And this always has a greater effect in schools and colleges with large cohorts of working-class students – inevitably it means cuts in teaching assistants for students with special educational needs.

The National Education Union (NEU) strike action, for a fully funded pay claim, over the first six months of this year showed the willingness of educators to take action to defend education. When the government’s below-inflation offer of 6.5% was accepted by the NEU leadership, the Socialist Party said that the problems facing schools and colleges would not disappear. Less than three months later, the need for strike action is facing education workers again.