It is vital that this general election is about more than Brexit. Schools, colleges and parents know the damage that an underfunded education system is doing to children and young people’s education. 12 December is the time to put that right.
There is not a school or college in England that has not been touched by school funding cuts. After protests from parents, school staff, and political representatives from all the major parties, the government was forced to pledge a £14bn package for primary and secondary schools in August.
Parents, headteachers, teachers, support staff and governors all know that this sum is nowhere near enough to reverse the cuts. Every prospective parliamentary candidate should also know that.
Even with the additional funding, a staggering 83 per cent of schools – that’s 16,307 – will still be facing cuts in April. The 16- to 19-year-old further education sector has been promised £400m but with the huge cuts it has been subjected to, it will still need £1.1bn to keep afloat. £230m is still needed for early years and maintained nursery provision, while the crisis in special education needs and disability funding continues, leaving our most vulnerable pupils either out of education or without the support they need to get the most out of their time at school.
Teachers’ pay has not kept pace with the cost of living, while their workloads have spiralled upwards, and the profession has been hit with an unprecedented recruitment and retention crisis, leaving vacancies unfilled and an ever-narrowing curriculum.
In response to the recruitment and retention emergency, the government has also announced it will raise the starting salary of an NQT to £30,000 in 2022, which, while welcome, does not restore teachers’ pay to 2010 levels and does not apply to educators in sixth forms. It may help recruitment, but the profession has a recruitment and retention crisis.
Desperate though this situation is, this election is about more than school funding and pay.
Schools are at the centre of our communities, many of which have been laid to waste by austerity.
Our members tell us heart-breaking stories of areas pushed to breaking point. Schools running food banks to feed pupils and their families. Washing facilities opening in schools to clean uniforms. Children with holes in their shoes. Pupils pretending they don’t feel the cold because their families can’t afford to buy them a coat.
The Conservatives have got rid of the target to end child poverty, despite 4.1 million children still trapped in poverty and this figure expected to rise to 5.2m by 2022. In one of the richest countries on the globe, we must and can do better – and this should be reflected in party manifestos.
Poverty leaves a myriad of problems in its wake. Poor, overcrowded or insecure housing, a lack of heating, never having enough to eat – all impact on children and young people’s learning.
There is a mental health crisis in our schools, with savage cuts to local authority provision meaning pupils go without the help they desperately need.
We know all these things because our members are on the frontline, doing their best every day in sometimes impossible circumstances.
Our children get one chance at education. Be under no illusion – schools and colleges are in a dire situation, and real solutions are needed.
This election gives us all a chance – to turn our sights to the future and vote for the education and communities that our children deserve. And we cannot afford to waste it. If you value education, you must vote for education.
Mary Bousted is the general secretary for the National Education Union.