Don't cut our schools!

Submitted by Matthew on 10 February, 2016 - 2:22 Author: Kate Harris, Alice Swarstarner and Gemma Short

Schools across England are facing huge funding cuts over the next few years, under a “fairer” new funding formula, taking effect from 2017-18.

Nationally, schools will see about 8% cuts. In a few rare cases, particularly in schools in the shires, schools may have increased budgets. But schools in London will be hit with 13% cuts and some boroughs will face cuts of more than 20%.

The current system is unfair and schools are under-funded. In Lincolnshire, for example, the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals has doubled but the amount of money schools receive has stayed roughly the same. The same is true in Dorset. According to 2015-2016 figures, the amount of funding per pupil varies from roughly £4158 per pupil per year to £8587 per pupil per year.

Thirteen years ago, London schools were some of the worst in the country, with poverty and under-funding, among other factors, creating a “perfect storm” of poor behaviour – even violence, poor results and poor teacher retention. New Labour’s London Challenge programme pumped money and resources into the capital’s worst schools and – surprise, surprise — schools improved, behaviour improved and results improved.

For twenty years, the ″f40 group″, representing the interests of some of the lowest-funded schools in the country, has been campaigning for more parity in funding between schools in different local authorities. While the anger of staff, headteachers, governors and parents over the under-funding of schools in areas such as Berkshire, Poole and Stockport, is thoroughly justified, revising the funding formula to “redistribute” funding from other areas will have devastating effects for schools in Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Nottingham.

We are already in a national schools crisis, despite claims by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, and the Department for Education, to the contrary. Despite the DfE not meeting its own teacher training targets for the fifth year in a row, they reported positively about how figures had risen. There aren’t enough teachers training, and more and more teachers are leaving. Research shows that 40% of Newly Qualified Teachers left the profession after just one year of teaching. 60% of teachers in some boroughs are considering leaving their school, and 15% of classes in London schools are taught by workers and educators who aren’t qualified teachers and whom schools pay less.

Workload of teachers is around 55-60 hours a week, according to NUT surveys, but a good few teachers work 12-16 hour days just to stay afloat. On top of this, new testing regimes at both primary and secondary phases are pushing teachers to the limit of our tolerance; and the pay and conditions set out in the National Agreement or “Burgundy Book” are constantly broken, not to mention that academy schools are not automatically bound by them.

Five years of austerity, cuts to youth services, including mental health provision for under-18s and overcrowding due to a lack of council housing stock, added to cuts to schools particularly in London, are set to create another “perfect storm” of horrendous conditions for students, parents and school workers. Schools will lay off vital members of staff in order to meet the shortfall in funding, causing even bigger problems.

At NUT annual conference in April 2015, the union leadership presented, and conference unanimously voted for, a motion which committed the union to organise a public campaign about school funding similar to the FACE (fighting against cuts in education) campaign of the mid-90s. However almost a year later there is no sign of any such campaign.

We need to set up campaigns in our towns/cities and boroughs involving teachers, parents and students, with public meetings, marches, petitions, lobbies of MPs and direct action to stop the government’s plans and instead call for school funding increases across England.

Sheffield school to strike to stop cuts

In Sheffield a number of schools and colleges are now facing compulsory redundancy situations.

Parents at High Storrs School, for example, have recently become aware that the staff hours and roles are being cut. A number of subjects such as GCSE PE may no longer be offered as a result of this.

This has left teaching staff doubly hit, as administrative support has already been largely removed, leaving extra clerical work to be completed in addition to the already excessive teaching workload. Furthermore, the reduction in teaching numbers may mean that class sizes increase to unworkable levels in most subjects. Early reports suggest that class sizes of almost thirty students have been considered at A-level, a time when one-to-one teaching is crucial.

This is of immediate concern to all parents; the quality of teaching at the school is high, but it surely cannot be maintained under these conditions. As a result of staff concerns, NUT members have been balloted on strike action in the school; the returns were overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action if management will not consider alternative solutions to their financial issues. It is understood that the NASUWT is also soon to hold an indicative ballot of members. NUT members have repeatedly shown their belief in strikes, in the face of a savagely hostile administration and a union leadership more concerned with appeasing potential Blairite future governments than winning industrial battles in the here and now.

This story is only one of many across the region and the country; it’s not a victory yet, but it’s proof that the rank and file membership is strong and determined. We can only hope that the union leadership finally learns from them.

No academy at John Roan School!

Teachers at John Roan school in Greenwich will be balloting for strikes over the proposed academisation of their school. Staff at the school have only just settled a dispute over lesson observations and workload after strikes in November last year.

That campaign has left them in a strong position to fight the proposed academisation, especially given parent and student support for the last dispute. A petition against academisation has reached over 1,000 signatures in less than a week.

• Sign the petition