Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/961/26093

From The Socialist newspaper, 6 September 2017

Schools and teaching: A perfect storm of cuts, underfunding, excessive workloads and low pay

Pencils

Pencils   (Click to enlarge)

Teachers' unions must fight to reverse disastrous Tory education policies

James Kerr, teacher and Lewisham Socialist Party

Schools return this week for a new academic year with the usual mix of emotions but with the prospect of budget cuts lingering in the background.

Controversy also hangs over some schools, including the exam scandals at Eton and Winchester.

The Guardian's recent coverage of St Olave's grammar school in Orpington, and its policy of removing students who 'underperform' at AS Level, will have been met with shakes of the head from many teachers and parents but it's not a major shock. Partly because it is unsurprising that a selective school would exclude students in order to massage results but mainly because the practice is not that uncommon.

In fact, follow up coverage revealed 20,000 students don't complete their Key Stage 5 studies, some voluntarily but many taken off roll by schools concerned about their results and league table position, including those who are supposedly non-selective.

How many young people have had their education interrupted because of accountability measures? The St Olave's students had the benefit of legal support and press coverage that many students don't have access to.

This is just the latest symptom of a culture where pressure on schools and individual teachers to hit targets drives a system placed under even greater strain by cuts introduced by the Tory government.

There is a crisis in education developing on a number of different fronts and it is vital there is a powerful organised response from the labour movement, parents and students.

For the past year warnings about cuts to school funding have dominated discussion around education. After the general election a Survation poll estimated that in the region of 750,000 people switched votes on the issue of school funding alone.

The music of the future was heard in schools like Forest Hill in Lewisham, south London, where staff took 12 days of strike action against huge cuts as a result of a 1.3 million budget deficit and numerous staff redundancies.

Class sizes

47% of schools have increased class sizes and reduced their curriculum because of budget pressures. A generation of young people are seeing the things that enrich their lives and inspire them being taken away to balance the books.

The fallout from the general election prompted education secretary Justine Greening to divert 1.3 billion from the Free Schools budget towards local authority schools and academies. But with no injection of fresh cash into the system, cuts will still hit schools hard.

Around the country there have been successful events bringing teachers, parents and students together - like the 1,000-plus rally in Tower Hamlets in May. These can provide firm foundations to build mass campaigns to halt the cuts. As with the Forest Hill campaign, parent and student action will be necessary alongside industrial action by school staff.

The new school year brings the launch of the new National Education Union (NEU), an amalgamation of the NUT and ATL. Now the biggest teachers' union and the fourth largest union in the Trades Union Congress, it potentially has enormous power to lead the fight in defence of education, but only by adopting a clear and bold winning strategy.

At the November 2016 special conference that paved the way for the NEU, Socialist Party Teachers raised opposition to the truncated process to ratify the rule book of the new union and the impact some of the contents of that rule book would have on the union's ability to respond quickly and effectively in mounting industrial action.

We agreed that the NEU could be a 'game changer' but that is not a given and it will need to be not just a big but a fighting union - bringing together the struggles of teachers and support staff on the ground and on a national basis.

This year will be a defining one for the immediate future of education and there will be no hiding place for the new union, which will be tested on the issue of school funding in particular.

When asked about national strike action at the launch of the NEU, joint general secretary Mary Bousted said: "My view is that if you're looking at education funding, the power of information, campaigning and the moral case you can make is extremely powerful. I think for funding that's probably a more effective route."

While a thorough and comprehensive campaign of information can be effective, it would be naive to think that the 'moral case' will defeat a government intent on attacking state education.

Under the new anti-trade union law teachers have much higher thresholds to meet for national strike action. But with the combined resources of the NUT and ATL used in a major campaign, and the kind of expertise put on show with the schoolcuts.org.uk website, then even a high threshold could be obtained.

We should also remind ourselves that in the USA, right-wing legislators have previously set ballot thresholds at a level they were sure teacher unions would not meet and were proven wrong.

Tests

It is not only on funding that urgent action is required. High stakes testing in schools is damaging young people and the teachers who teach them.

This is particularly acute at primary school where young children are dragged through tests that most adults would struggle with and where the pressure takes its toll. For example,eight out of ten headteachers reported a rise in mental health issues for children during exam time.

Even a House of Commons select committee has acknowledged this, stating in its report: "This high stakes system... is leading to a narrowing of the curriculum and 'teaching to the test', as well as affecting teacher and pupil wellbeing."

A motion at this year's NUT conference agreed a ballot of leadership members this term which could pave the way for a boycott of the tests in 2018. Taking this forward is an immediate task for the new union.

Testing also contributes to excessive workload for teachers, which is forcing many to leave the profession. In fact, a survey found one in ten teachers had left in a 12 month period with the majority citing workload as the factor driving them out.

In some authorities, like Nottingham and Coventry, Fair Workload Charters are being introduced to try to retain teachers. Campaigning for these to be rolled out across the country and ultimately incorporated into a legally binding national contract for all teachers is essential to halt the exodus from teaching.

Recruitment and retention has become particularly difficult in London schools with the vast majority of headteachers reporting difficulties in recruiting teachers in all areas.

One factor compounding this recruitment and retention crisis is public sector pay. If teacher pay had simply kept pace with inflation, it would be 5,000 a year higher on average.

Pay

While funding may be at the forefront of teachers' minds, pay cannot be ignored and, with the potential for industrial action across the public sector to break the pay cap, demands for an end to performance-related pay and for guaranteed pay progression for all teachers need to be incorporated into campaigns.

This is a weak and divided government. Graham Brady, chair of the Tory backbench MPs' 1922 Committee, was forced to concede in the aftermath of the general election that the flagship plan to roll out new grammar schools was dead in the water. This comes after numerous u-turns by the Department for Education in recent years and shows their vulnerability when faced with opposition.

It also comes at a time of growing popularity for the policies put forward by Jeremy Corbyn's manifesto at the general election. The idea of a National Education Service, providing free education from cradle to grave, is popular. It has the potential to not only attract new teachers but also win some back to the profession they've left behind.

It would inspire young people who can see a future where their interests, hopes and dreams are nurtured within education, not dulled and dented.

Corbyn must guarantee the 'renationalisation' of education, with academies and free schools brought back under local authority control and an end to the current accountability system which distorts the way schools are run so much.

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Paulo Friere's 'Pedagogy of the oppressed' which joined the long tradition of critiquing the way education is run under capitalism. 50 years on many of his observations are more relevant than ever.

Socialist ideas will be vital in providing answers to the big questions students, parents and teachers have, and will come to the fore in the struggles ahead.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 6 September 2017:


Socialist Party news and analysis

Fight council cuts - back the Brum bin strikers!

Historic McStrike: if we don't get it, shut it down!

Problem gambling soars by 33%

UN slams Tories for disabled rights ruin

Them & Us


What we think

Tories weak: time for the TUC to act


Schools and teaching

Schools and teaching: A perfect storm of cuts, underfunding, excessive workloads and low pay


Socialist Party workplace news

Strike together for better pay

RMT fighting for passenger safety, accessibility and security

Merseyrail strike over safety: Labour mayor and councillors must reverse their decision

Three week Argos strike ends

Fawley refinery canteen strikers tell their employer: "pay up"

College workers ballot for action in Nottingham


International socialist news and analysis

Hurricane Harvey: A tragedy made far worse by capitalism

Extreme weather events and global warming


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Determined protest against Chatsworth Ward closure

Young people are searching for an alternative - find it at Socialism 2017

Huddersfield A&E closure goes to judicial review

Three thousand attend Burston strike commemoration rally

Bristol's Labour mayor calls anti-austerity march - now stop making cuts!

Demonstrators see off far-right in Keighley

Anti-fracking campaigners' legal fight


Socialist Party comments and reviews

How the Single Market blocks socialist policies

Bosses' pensions robbery

Magic money tree

Warts-and-all account of class war and the struggle for LGBT+ rights

'Let the producers of wealth unite - and what can withstand them?'


 

Home   |   The Socialist 6 September 2017   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook






Related links:

Education:

triangleUniversity workers' walkout for decent pensions

triangleFailing academy chain strips school assets - end academisation!

triangleLecturers vote for strikes against pension cuts

triangleSwansea Socialist Party: Fighting for free education

triangleNewham academy strikes spread to Cumberland school

Schools:

triangleTeachers strike again as anti-academy pressure mounts

triangleGCSE grading game stresses out students - even more than before!

triangleStriking back against academies in Newham

triangleCapitalism v cricket

Pay:

triangleAfter 80 strike days Mears workers achieve victory

triangleI'm now a 'manager' and I can barely manage!

Low pay:

triangleAmy Murphy for Usdaw president - vote for a fighting and democratic union

triangleBosses say 217 years to close pay gap - workers' struggle can close it now!

Unions:

triangleNHS - build the fightback

Union:

triangleUnison national women's conference

School:

triangleVictory for school cleaners!

Parents:

triangleNewham: school strike solid against academy

General election:

triangleCorbyn's left must seize the advantage in Labour's civil war

Budget:

triangleKirklees council opens consultation of library services

Government:

triangleLeeds Socialist Party: How long can May cling on for?

NUT:

triangleSchools "can't go any further" - stop the cuts: set deficit budgets now

Children:

triangleTragic death exposes criminal understaffing of NHS

London:

triangleTower Hamlets Socialist Party: 120 years since the death of Eleanor Marx

Public sector:

triangleUni strike: coordinate public sector fightback

Free Schools:

triangleCuts leave schools unable to meet basic needs

Lewisham:

triangleSouth-East London Socialist Party: USA - Resisting Trump and fighting for socialism

National Education Union:

triangleTeacher recruitment falls by a third - cut workload, not funding

Performance-related:

triangleTeachers working 60 hours need strikes, not studies

Jeremy Corbyn:

triangleTower Hamlets Socialist Party: How can we get Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity policies into our local council?

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis

19/2/18

Election

Usdaw victory - Socialist Party member Amy Murphy wins presidential election

14/2/18

Tamil Solidarity

Tamil youth march for justice

14/2/18

Foreign Aid

Oxfam scandal: we need democratic aid and working class solidarity

14/2/18

TUSC

Building support for Corbyn's anti-cuts policies in the local elections

14/2/18

EU

What we saw: Tory-Blairite EU love-in

14/2/18

Rents

Rent doubles in a decade: cap rents, build council homes!

14/2/18

Public ownership

McDonnell says Labour would put services 'irreversibly' in workers' hands

14/2/18

NHS

We can win the fight for the NHS

7/2/18

Labour

NHS - build the fightback

7/2/18

Labour

Corbyn's left must seize the advantage in Labour's civil war

7/2/18

Haringey

Haringey: now's our chance for a no-cuts council

7/2/18

Refugees

90 feared dead after migrant boat capsizes

7/2/18

Outsourcing

Capita in crisis: bring all outsourcers back in-house

7/2/18

Trump

Trump v NHS

31/1/18

NHS

NHS: use the 3 February protests as a launch pad for a mass movement

triangleMore News and socialist analysis articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: info@socialistparty.org.uk

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0191 421 6230

North West 07769 611 320

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


February 2018

January 2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999