Austerity and marketisation are poisoning our schools
15 March, 2019
THE spectre of austerity hangs heavy over all aspects of public life. Governments, obsessing over balancing books and smoothing the path of profitable progress, have over the past decade slowly drained resources away from the public sector.
There has been an almost an infatuation with the private field for far longer. It began with Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and continued through the New Labour era and the coalition Government to the present day.
It has found an expression even in such vital services as the police and the NHS and is now, obviously, poisoning the field of education judging by the letter from Camden School for Girls (pictured).
The recent clamour and objections to schools having to close early on Fridays is typical of this debate. The Labour MP Jess Phillips has spoken about her son’s primary school in Birmingham having to do this, and says she intends to leave her child at the gates of Downing Street in protest.
Schools in Manchester and other major cities have been closing early for the same reason. Camden will not remain immune.
The funding crisis is already very real. For well over a year now, it has become increasingly difficult for any of our schools to adequately address the needs of all of its students.
Last year, this newspaper ran a series of articles about the often bizarre lengths schools have had to resort to top-up budgets. Primary school children were sent home with Smarties packets and asked to return with them filled up with 20-pence pieces. Begging letters are routinely sent home to parents. School trips have been cut. Arts and Classics are no longer universally taught.
The Department for Education coldly repeats, like a malfunctioning robot, that funding to schools is at a record high. The reality is that schools’ pounds-per-pupil ratio is dramatically down.
What are the consequences? Naturally, the breadth of education narrows. Teachers have less time for individuals, as classroom sizes swell.
Children’s imaginations are stunted as they are bracketed towards cheaper-to-teach fields, like business studies or IT. More parents are pulling their children out of state schools, moving them to other boroughs, or going private. Teachers are worn out, disillusioned. Exclusions are rising to unacceptable levels.
It is not just the funding that has caused this, but the marketisation of the entire system. Schools now compete for pupils. Funding is linked to “success”. Teacher pay is determined by performance. Superhead-led mergers and takeovers have been encouraged.
The National Education Union, formerly the National Union of Teachers, has said more than a year ago that it believed the cuts to schools and young people’s services was the single biggest factor in increased youth crime.
After a year of violence in this borough and across London, those warnings feel more urgent than ever before.