National Union of Teachers’ conference

Action gets results – Teachers Must Fight Cuts

SO MUCH for New Labour priorities. When it comes to war, the cheque book’s always ready. When it comes to our schools and services, Gordon Brown’s wallet slams shut again.

Martin Powell-Davies, Lewisham NUT

While billions are squandered in Iraq, many schools face their worst financial crisis for years. Many are struggling to fund increased National Insurance and pension contributions this April. At best, most schools will set standstill budgets. Many are looking at significant cuts, even redundancies.

Money isn’t the only thing in short supply. As in the reports from Iraq, truth sometimes seems a scarce commodity. Three years ago, Gordon Brown talked of the “biggest sustained increase in education spending for a generation”. But our schools are still struggling with underfunding.

We have some of the worst pupil-teacher ratios in Europe. Schools are still haemorrhaging teachers, driven out by excessive workload, inadequate pay and a narrow test-driven curriculum that alienates staff and pupils alike. Don’t believe New Labour’s spin – things aren’t getting better.

The funding crisis means that the government’s much-heralded proposals to recruit more staff to help reduce teacher workload are being exposed as a sham. The only teachers likely to see their workload go down are those who get the sack!

For most teachers, the annual salary increases won’t even match the rate of inflation. Only in Inner London, after two days of strike action last year, did some teachers win more substantial increases.

Even here, to the anger of teachers, increases were linked to the divisive performance-related “threshold”. But, despite the drawbacks, the government has shown that it does have to take notice when union members take action. Now it’s time that action was taken nationwide.

Unless we fight these cuts, more overworked teachers will resign or be replaced by cheaper, unqualified staff. More pupils will lose out. But education is too important to allow things to get any worse. The tide is turning against this government.

Pupils and parents have had enough of cuts, staff shortages, tests and league tables. But it is union action that is key to organising real opposition to New Labour’s attacks.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has already taken a lead by refusing to sign up to the government’s phoney workload proposals. Now it needs to follow that up with firm action to demand real improvements in pay and workload and to start a national boycott of the damaging national SAT tests.

Unless we fight these cuts, more schools will opt for divisive “specialist” status to earn more funds or look to balance the books by employing low-paid assistants to replace qualified teachers. Without a lead from the NUT, more teachers will either resign or be bullied into even longer hours to try and win performance pay awards.