Decade of austerity has left our children short in the classroom - Jayne Dowle

Our children are the forgotten victims of more than a decade of austerity, suffering economic cuts throughout every aspect of their young lives, including in the classroom.

Although blink-and-you’d-have-missed-him Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid announced that the damaging economic strictures put in place by David Cameron and his Chancellor, George Osborne, came to an end in September 2019, few in education believed him.

Celebrations, if I recall, were muted. The unaccounted-for aftermath of Brexit, followed by the chaos wreaked by Covid, then war in Ukraine, spiralling energy and cost of living bills and political turmoil giving us three British Prime Ministers since the summer, have put paid to Javid’s premature proclamation.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And in the middle of all this, schools have battled to keep going, to keep children and young people in the classroom – whether through IRL (in real life) or virtual teaching – to recruit and retain teachers and support staff, and now, to keep the heating on. Something’s got to give, and it has.

Children are the forgotten victims of more than a decade of austerity.Children are the forgotten victims of more than a decade of austerity.
Children are the forgotten victims of more than a decade of austerity.

In an open letter to Conservative MPs, the National Association of Headteachers, backed by another dozen professional bodies representing education professionals, has warned that nine out of 10 schools in England are facing the reality of running out of money by the next school year.

The major body for school leaders pointed to forecasts which currently predict a £2bn shortfall by 2024, calling the situation 'desperate', according to the BBC.

This, warned NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman, could lead to teachers being laid off, further restrictions in class sizes - many classrooms are standing room only already and lessons are being held in dining and sports halls – and even school closures.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mr Whiteman added that insufficient pay has sent schools into “a vicious spiral” of staff resignations and warned that “heart-breaking cuts to services” will have to be made.

He said that “spiralling energy bills”, inflation and lack of funding for teachers' pay mean thousands of schools believe they are heading for a deficit:

“Consequently, school leaders are being forced to make cuts that ultimately cannot help but negatively impact on the education and wellbeing of children.”

The NAHT called for assurances from the Tory party leadership candidates that they would deliver on the party’s 2019 pledge to restore education funding to 2010 levels.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

So far, given that new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (educated at fee-paying Winchester College) has only been in office for four days, there has been no word on if and how this demand might be met. However, there is no time to waste.

As it stands, we have no clear idea of when the next General Election will be held, so they can’t be allowed to sack it off like a skiving Year 10.

For years now, successive Tory Cabinets have failed to get to grips with the funding crisis unfolding in our schools. The churn of Education Secretaries, particularly in recent months, has been so dizzying it has left teachers, parents and pupils reeling; no longevity in post has meant no meaningful attention has been paid to classroom funding, let alone sensible curriculum reforms or long-term planning.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the future of education is on the line,” warns Mr Whiteman. Believe me, as a parent, I know this is true. But the key word in this sentence is “future”. It’s about time a Conservative government accepted once and for all that if we are to compete on equal terms with other countries – in Europe and beyond – in a post-Brexit world, we really need to invest in those who will make it happen, the young.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And finally, Labour are beginning to wise up. This week Lord Blunkett, the former home secretary and education secretary, has published the report of Labour’s council of skills advisers.

It will call for a “complete rethink” on the curriculum and assessment to ensure children are ready for the modern workplace. “It’s not roads that create growth and productivity, it’s learning and skills,” Blunkett says. “Whether we are trying to enable parents to go back to work after maternity leave or equipping secondary school children for the world of the future or encouraging people to return to employment we are going to need a transformation.”

What do the Conservatives have to counter that, except ill-starred mumblings about grammar schools and rumblings that student tuition fees may have to rise? I’m afraid, with respect to friends who educate their children privately, that the government looks after its own, and doesn’t actually care about those suffering in ill-equipped and underfunded schools.