While our MPs and the national media remain preoccupied with the Brexit shambles and the last rites of Theresa May’s disintegrating premiership, in the real world the effect of eight years of austerity continues to impact on the public services that we all rely upon. The continuing real terms cuts to the police, education, health and social care are bringing these vital services to the point of collapse.
An unreported but telling letter this week to parents from every primary school headteacher in Gloucestershire exposes the untruths behind the government’s claims to be spending more on education than ever before, claims which have been declared misleading on four occasions by the National Statistics Authority. In addition, changes to the National Funding Formula which were supposed to improve the school funding situation in Gloucestershire have left the county’s schools relatively worse off than they were before.
This follows the recent letter to the government from every secondary headteacher in Gloucestershire warning of the “catastrophic impact” on pupils from the cuts proposed by the County Council in order to meet the shortfall in the special needs budget. Some secondary schools are facing an unexpected budget cut of £200,000 in addition to the ongoing funding crisis.
The pupils who are hardest hit by these cuts are the most vulnerable. Support services and mentoring for these pupils have disappeared over the last eight years as schools have struggled to maintain basic classroom teaching. In a damning report published a week ago the government’s own Chief Inspector for Schools issued a strong indictment of the lack of support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, a situation which she described as a “national scandal”.
Coincidentally, a BBC television series called School has been broadcast over the last few weeks based on several schools just over the county border in South Gloucestershire, a county with even lower education funding levels than Gloucestershire. The programmes will have shocked viewers as they harshly expose the reality of life in our underfunded education system. They have repeatedly shown teaching and support staff in tears as they cope with staff reductions, cuts to subject provision, and lack of support for the most vulnerable children in dilapidated and crumbling buildings. The programmes provide a far more realistic picture of our schools than the false statistics and platitudes reeled out by government ministers and our local Conservative MPs.
Politically driven austerity has bankrupted the education system. A report published this week identified a quarter of all maintained schools have a current budget deficit, on average £375,000 per school. The demands of additional pupil numbers, inflation and having to meet a multi-million £ shortfall in the government’s teachers pension fund will make school budgets across the country unsustainable by the end of 2019. If our schools were private businesses, many would have been declared bankrupt by now.
In other news this week, the government’s complacency and indifference to the plight of the majority schools and their pupils was exposed by the announcement of an extra £50 million funding for grammar schools. “Just weeks after abandoning their own guarantee to protect every school from cash cuts, the Tories have excluded the vast majority of schools from any extra funding,” said Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary. “The continued obsession with grammar schools will do nothing for the vast majority of children. It is absurd for ministers to push ahead with plans to expand them when the evidence is clear they do nothing to improve social mobility.”
Surely it doesn’t have to be like this in the world’s sixth richest country? A government which fails to invest in the education and welfare of its young people is failing in one of its basic duties. There is much talk of the collapse of this ramshackle government and then a general election which would return to power a Labour government committed to supporting our public services. For our children such a change can’t come too soon.
Malcolm Bride, 7th December 2018.
Read more about these issues –
Secondary Heads letter to government – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-gloucestershire-45882902
Chief Inspector of Schools – https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/dec/04/thousands-of-hard-to-teach-pupils-removed-from-schools-ofsted
School budgets unsustainable – https://www.tes.com/news/school-budgets-will-be-unsustainable-2019-warn-heads
Grammar School additional funding – https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/may/11/grammar-schools-in-england-to-get-50m-expansion-fund