The independent London newspaper

A generation is being punished by continuing austerity

04 April, 2019

Justine Greening

JEREMY Corbyn and Theresa May appear to have held constructive talks last night (Wednesday) to resolve the crisis over Brexit.

But while Brexit tops the agenda there are other crises facing Britain. Schools funding has been the most consistently ignored crisis.

Education secretary Damian Hinds has repeatedly refused to meet with campaign groups and headteachers to hear their first-hand concerns.

The Department for Education has, for the past two to three years, been bluntly dismissive. Funding is at record levels, they state. Schools have never had it so good. Mr Hinds’ predecessor, Justine Greening, came to Camden shortly before the 2017 general election spouting the same old tosh. “We are also planning to make sure funding is fairly spread across the country and no school will lose as part of the change,” she said.

But who can take these politicians seriously? The cold facts for parents are that the rounded comprehensive education they enjoyed as children is no longer available for their own.

The loss of support staff – often the first for the chop – directly affects the progress of pupils with special educational needs (SEN) and mental health problems.

Mentors for vulnerable teenagers are also lost when budgets can no longer afford to pay staff to work outside the classroom.

Schools are no longer able to offer enriching exchanges abroad, modern languages and art courses.

Do stretched school heads have the time to properly assess trouble flaring in the playground, or psychological bullying of the online world? It is no wonder stretched schools are increasingly resorting to quick fix solutions – like fixed-term exclusion. Brutal and devastating knife attacks are being perpetrated by young people who are the product of a crumbling education system.

In the past two years, this newspaper has repeatedly reported on the extreme measures schools are adopting to make ends meet. Families have been asked to fill Smarties tubes with 20p pieces. Children have been sent home with begging letters and asking parents to sponsor chairs and cupboards. Across the country, there are reports of schools closing early. Science labs and art rooms are lying dormant. Just last week in south London, a group of teachers agreed to take a pay cut rather than have one of their colleagues axed.

The issue of cuts has, historically, been almost taboo for headteachers. Now, after almost a decade of austerity, pupil figures are dropping in Camden. It would be strange if this were a coincidence.

Almost all headteachers in Camden, in a show of strength in numbers, signed a joint letter to the education secretary. Nothing was done.

The DfE repeats its claim this week that funding is up. The unions and experts at the Institute of Fiscal Studies begs to differ. Whispers of discontent will no longer suffice. Futures are at stake.

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