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Our education system is in crisis

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The government must listen to our teachers if it's to be saved

On Friday I have the honour of speaking at the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) North East Education Summit. I had hoped that, following the Budget, I would be speaking with optimism. But instead I will be speaking with continued frustration and fear. Our education system is in crisis, and with no significant uplift in funding on the horizon, it’s unlikely this will change anytime soon.

The Government insists that school funding has been protected and is at an all-time high. But this is simply not true. In fact, 

£2.8bn has been cut from school budgets since 2015, in real terms, spending per pupil has declined by 8% and capital funding has been cut by a third.

What do these cuts mean for our schools? They mean staff shortages, bigger classes and depleted resources. Ultimately, an education system which is failing our children.

Not only do our schools have a funding crisis, but subsequently a recruitment and retention crisis too. Years of under inflation pay rises and excessive workloads are driving teachers away and deterring new recruits. Teachers are being asked to do more, with less, for less, for longer.

The crisis in teacher recruitment means that whilst schools are struggling to fill vacancies, large numbers of pupils are being taught by teachers who do not have a relevant qualification in the subject, and class sizes are growing.

Research by the School Cuts coalition of unions shows that 62% of state secondary schools had larger classes in 2017 than two years before. Schools don’t want to increase their class sizes, but with reduced staffing levels, they have no choice.

Bigger classes result in less individual support for children and the potential for lessons to revert to the Victorian era of ‘one size fits all’. In this type of lesson, a child with additional needs, gifts or talents, or a child who simply needs a little extra support, will not get it.

As well as the shortages of staff and rising class sizes, schools are struggling to afford basic supplies and frequently asking parents to pay for things like textbooks and art materials.

And what is the inevitable consequence of all of this? That the quality and safety of our education system deteriorates and the life chances of our children and young people erode.

The recent Budget was the Government’s opportunity to change direction and properly fund our schools. But by failing to take this opportunity they have again failed our children.

So we are standing side by side with our unions and sending a message to Government. We need a new approach to education. Instead of cuts, we need investment. Instead of driving teachers into the ground, we need decency and dignity for staff. Instead of real-terms pay cuts, we need fair pay rises.

Only with these changes will the crisis be over and an education system our children deserve exist. 

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