TEACHERS are understandably concerned about the relentless attacks that their profession has suffered over the last four years, along with other public service workers, on their pay, pensions and conditions of service.
But at the heart of their concerns is the children and young people they teach, as it is clear that the impact of the coalition’s education policies, cuts and reforms on pupils and their families has been equally ferocious.
Longitudinal research released at the NASUWT conference on the cost of education and the impact of financial hardship on children and young people makes shocking reading.
More and more children are going to school hungry and without adequate clothing and footwear.
More and more families are losing their homes and being placed in temporary accommodation miles away from their child’s school and unable to afford the transport costs to get them there. According to the charity Shelter, over 80,000 children were homeless on Christmas Day last year.
More and more families are relying on food banks to feed their children, and more and more teachers are stepping in to provide clothes, food and equipment for their pupils.
Parents struggling with the cost of living are facing the spiralling costs of school uniform as too many schools require it to be purchased from specialist providers rather than much less expensive supermarket chains. This is despite warnings from the Office of Fair Trading that this is an unacceptable practice.
A third of parents are now being expected to pay for text books and reference books required by particular subjects.
Over the last two years, there has been a marked increase in the number of pupils unable to participate in educational trips and visits because their parents cannot afford the cost and many pupils are excluded from extra-curricular activities for the same reason.
These are not optional extras, these are basic educational entitlements they are being denied because, as a result of the coalition’s 2011 Education Act, schools are now able to charge for activities which were previously free.
One of the fundamental principles of education and our other great public services is that they are free at the point of use. Access to education is now increasingly on the basis of parents’ ability to pay. An important entitlement has been seriously compromised.
Teachers are being left to pick up the pieces of the coalition’s failure to address the poverty and homelessness caused by their economic and social policies which are damaging children’s educational progress, health and life chances.
The coalition’s track record over the last four years in its treatment of children and young people makes shameful reading.
The removal of the requirement for schools to employ staff with qualified teacher status means parents no longer have the certainty that when they send their child to school they will be taught by a qualified teacher and children have lost a fundamental entitlement.
When the coalition came to office, our schools were world class, ranking among the highest performing in the world.
Rather than building on this legacy, the coalition embarked on obsessive structural reform through academisation and free schools to introduce a free market into education, enabling privateers and marketeers to make a profit at the taxpayers’ expense.
This has done nothing to raise standards. There are excellent academies and there are some with serious weaknesses. Pass the parcel is now regularly being played with the future of children and young people as schools are handed from one sponsor to another when problems arise.
And Ofsted has become the increasingly politicised agent of Government, driving rather than critically evaluating Government policy and consequently failing to act in or to protect the public interest.
The General Election is now in sight. Parties are already drafting their manifestos. Now is the time for parents and the public to call for politicians to commit to a public education service which is democratically accountable and secures equality and social justice as a universal entitlement for all our children and young people. We cannot afford for another generation to be betrayed.