Saturday, 22 April 2017

Your child's future is at stake - who will stop school cuts?

Our children only have one chance to gain the education they need and deserve to make the most of their adult lives - but those opportunities are under threat.

Why? Because for the first time since the 1990s, school budgets are being cut in real terms. What's more, those cuts are on such a large scale that they can only severely impact children's education.

£3 billion in cuts by 2020 - a figure that cannot be in dispute as it is accepted by both the National Audit Office and the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts - is a huge cut. As the calculations demonstrate, it means that every primary schools stands to lose over £100,000, secondary schools nearly £0.5 million.

Those are averages, but some schools stand to be hit even harder. Which ones? An analysis by the Child Poverty Action Group of the school cuts figures shows that it will be schools with the poorest children that will lose out, those families who can least afford to see their educational opportunities stolen from them.

Schools in the 50 worst hit local authorities stand to lose over £500 per pupil. The worst hit, Southwark, is predicted a cut of 16%, over £1,000 per pupil, equivalent to cutting over 800 teachers from their posts.

These aren't just future predictions, school cuts are already happening. The National Audit Office confirms that 60% of secondary schools were already having to spend more than their annual income back in 2014/15. Some have now already exhausted any reserves they might have had and are already being forced to make significant cuts.

Across London, NUT members are having to take strike action to try and defend their jobs and working conditions and, in doing so, education and children's learning conditions. Those disputes illustrate exactly what these cuts mean in practice.

In Ark Elvin in Brent, 10 job losses are predicted, mainly support staff. In Plumstead Manor in Greenwich, 30 jobs are to be cut, including teachers and learning support assistants. In nearby Corelli College, 17 jobs are at risk. In Forest Hill in Lewisham a cut of over £1 million will see 15 teaching posts cut on top of over 20 support staff. In Hackney, specialist support teachers and SENCOs are at risk in both the Inclusion Team and at Parkwood Primary School.

These schools give a glimpse of what the school cuts figures show will be coming to 99% of schools unless the £3 billion of funding we need is found: curriculum subjects  - cut, support for EAL, SEN and the pupils who need it most - cut, time for teachers to mark and prepare lessons - cut,

The cuts will mean stripping everything to the bone, leaving just the minimum staffing required to keep a teacher in front of a class - but with those class sizes growing even larger.

As the Labour Party drew attention to this week, already over half a million primary school pupils are in classes over 30, that's 1 in 8 of our youngsters - and that's only going to get worse if these cuts continue.

These cuts won't just make things even more difficult for children, it will make things even harder for staff. Long hours and excessive workload mean we already have a teacher recruitment and retention crisis, these cuts will make that even worse.  

Staffing will be cut overall and the staff that are left will be overworked, unhappy and constantly changing. That's not the stable environment that children need for their education.

All of those facts and examples spell out a grim picture for our children's future. However, I've not spelt them out for you to feel downhearted, but for you to feel angry - and determined to stop them - because, we can, and must, do that.

Parents and staff care deeply about education. That passion for education is driving a growing campaign to stop school cuts. Meetings of hundreds have taken place across London and beyond. Parents, students and staff have been united in bold and lively protests supporting the local disputes I have mentioned. Today, 200 staff and parents marched through the streets of Catford in support of Forest Hill School.

And, of course, now our campaign has a clear focus and a very immediate timescale. On June 8, we will elect a new Government. We need to make sure that it is a Government that will defend education and reverse school cuts.   

We will be supporting local activities, including stalls, hustings, question times, rallies and marches to make sure that school cuts becomes one of the central issues in the General Election campaign.

The NUT doesn't support any political party and so we will lobby every candidate on this issue. But what is clear is that the outgoing Government has shown where it stands - and it stands for cuts. It is a Government that promised to protect school funding -  but has broken that promise.

It has tried to cover up the losses hitting nearly every school with the deck-chair shuffling of the National Funding Formula. But robbing Peter to pay Paul does not resolve the problem. Unless there is enough funding overall to meet needs, then no funding formula can possibly be 'fair'.

The Tories haven't even been honest enough to confirm the outcome of their Funding Formula consultation before the General Election campaign starts. That means that suspicions will only grow that, if they think they can get away with it, the outcomes could mean even more money being redistributed away from the worst-hit metroplitan areas.

They claim that they can't afford to invest in education - but
what can be more important than investing in our children's future? Why not use the uninvested wealth sitting in the bank accounts across the Square Mile?

Of course, they can find money when it suits their blinkered educational ideology. NUT research shows that the Government squandered £140 million on 62 free schools, UTCs and studio schools that have either closed, partially closed, or never opened.

They also announced in the March Budget that they were able to find an additional £320 million for education - but only to fund a further expansion of free schools and selective grammar schools.

We should be in no doubt that Government support for selection and for education cuts are part of the same austerity agenda. As a civil servant famously said back in the 1980s "There has to be selection because we are beginning to create aspirations which increasingly society cannot match ... We have to select to ration the educational opportunities to meet the job opportunities". In short, they offer a future where only a select few children are worth investing in, the others can be written off. 

That's a future that none of us can accept. We have to campaign to win an alternative future, a future where every child really matters - and that means defeating school cuts.

So let's take the passion and determination that I have seen in the streets of Forest Hill this afternoon, at the rallies that are taking place across the country, and let's defeat school cuts!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

School cuts will be a central issue in the General Election

  • School staff strike in three South-East London schools against cuts 
  • March and Rally on Saturday 22nd April in Forest Hill

Today, in three South-East London schools, NUT members took strike action against the threat to jobs and conditions from school cuts.

NUT members at Corelli College, Blackheath, were taking their first day of strike action while members at Forest Hill School in Lewisham were on their fourth day of action. At Plumstead Manor School in Greenwich (pictured above), both GMB and NUT members took strike action alongside each other.

School cuts will be a central issue in the General Election campaign

Martin Powell-Davies, London NUT Regional Secretary said:

“These local disputes, also taking place in further London schools in the coming weeks, illustrate the threats that will be facing schools right across England if the next Government fails to provide the money needed to genuinely fund all schools fairly. As the website has shown, 98% of schools stand to face real terms cuts – and that means our children losing out on their one chance to the education they deserve. That’s why the NUT want to make sure that education cuts are a central issue in the General Election campaign”.

Teachers and Parents holding rally and demonstration on Saturday 22nd April

Before the General Election was announced, teachers and parents had already announced a march through Catford in support of Forest Hill School. That event now takes on a wider significance and is being supported by staff from Corelli College and Plumstead Manor as well.

Event details:

Demonstration assembling at 11.30 in Mountsfield Park, SE6 1AN

March at 12.15 to Rally in Mayow Park, near Forest Hill School, SE26 4SS.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Our children deserve better - we have to stop school cuts

“Schools in England are now facing the most significant financial pressure since the mid-1990s. Funding per pupil is reducing in real terms. If they are to manage within the funds available, schools will have to find efficiency savings rising from £1.1 billion in 2016–17 to £3.0 billion (equivalent to 8% of the total budget) by 2019–20 because of costs which are outside their control, such as pay rises, higher employer contributions to national insurance and the teachers’ pension scheme, and the apprenticeship levy”.

House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, Financial Sustainability of Schools, March 2017

"Schools just wanna have funds" - School gate protest at Forest Hill School in Lewisham

Our schools are under serious threat. In response, a growing campaign of parents, school leaders, staff and their trade unions is demanding ‘fair funding for all schools’. 

The campaign must succeed. If not, our children’s education will be damaged by cuts to the curriculum, rising class sizes and cuts to teaching and support staff posts which will further worsen the pressures on an already overstretched school workforce.

Six school trade unions are backing the website that shows how schools right across the SERTUC region (and beyond!) will be hit. It’s not just London boroughs that face real terms cuts of over 10%, so do Authorities like Luton, Southend and Brighton. 

MPs, the National Audit Office and the Institute for Fiscal Studies are all warning Government about school cuts. Yet, as things stand, they are refusing to listen. Ministers are either denying their extent or claiming that schools can somehow manage through ‘efficiency savings’. The NAO showed that 60% of secondary schools already had to spend more than their income in 2014-15. That position has only got worse. The hardest hit schools are now starting to make staff redundant.

The much-publicised National Funding Formula will do nothing to address the problem. It just aims to cover up the overall shortfall by taking money from some Authorities to give to others. But over 98% of schools will still lose out in real terms! 

Our children deserve better. Everyone who values education must campaign together to reverse these cuts and demand genuinely 'fair funding' that is sufficient to meet every child's needs.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Forest Hill parents, staff and students march to Lewisham Town Hall

Today, Thursday March 30, NUT members at Forest Hill School were left with no choice but to take their third day of strike action to oppose the damaging cuts to staffing and curriculum at FHS. 

After another lively protest outside the school on Mayow Road, a delegation of over fifty staff, students and parents marched with their banners along the South Circular Road to Lewisham Town Hall to hand in a petition of hundreds of signatures demanding Lewisham Council act to support the school. 

The march included two teachers still facing the threat of compulsory redundancy, teachers presently leading on PSHE and EAL support respectively. The loss of their posts illustrates the damage that the proposed job cuts will cause. Unless further financial assistance is found, there will be no teacher at FHS specifically to support EAL students and PSHE will only be covered in tutor time rather than being taught fully in separate lessons. 

The longer that the dispute continues without the Council acting to resolve it, the greater the ongoing uncertainty will affect students and staff alike. Regrettably, that will mean more teachers looking to leave Forest Hill to find posts where they will not see their time for preparation and marking slashed and their workload increased even further as a result. Lewisham Council urgently need to act to support the school.

Staff have been encouraged by the support given by some Labour councillors, including several who signed the NUT petition when they were lobbied outside the Council AGM earlier in the week. However, as things stand there has been no official change in the Council's line that it will not act further to assist the school, not even in meeting redundancy costs - despite the clear advice from the DfE being that this should be the Council's responsibility. 

NUT members therefore agreed that they have no choice but to call on their Union to issue notice for further days of strike action after the Easter holidays and that request is now being put to the National Union. 

In separate disputes, NUT strike action also took place today at Parkwood Primary in Hackney and by members of the Inclusion Team, also in Hackney, both against similar threats from budget cuts.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

FHS strike: Staff and parents demand Lewisham Council acts to stop cuts

There was a tremendous turnout of staff, parents and students outside Forest Hill School (FHS) this morning to support NUT members taking their first day of strike action against damaging cuts at FHS (see pictures below). Yet more staff were gathering support from commuters at Sydenham and Forest Hill stations.

The key message from today's protest was for everyone to meet again - with even more friends, neighbours and colleagues outside Lewisham Town Hall to:

from 5pm, Wednesday 22 March
outside Lewisham Town Hall in Catford,
London SE6 4RU

Sadly, the Council seem to be trying to wash their hands of this dispute even though they are the employer of the many staff that are being made redundant; even though they will remain the employer of all the staff who will be left to support the same number of students with fewer colleagues and so an even greater workload; even though they need to take responsibility for the education of local children that will be damaged as a result of these cuts.

Some councillors are even saying that acting to support the school would be 'illegal'. This is rubbish. The protest was told how Greenwich Council is agreeing to provide additional funding and extend loan repayments to support one of its schools facing similar funding pressures.

Education legislation also makes it clear that the expectation lies with the Council to take responsibility for the cost of the redundancy payments for those support staff who have already left plus those teachers who have opted for voluntary redundancy. That money alone could help prevent any further compulsory redundancies and allow FHS to recruit staff to address some of the additional workload that is otherwise going to be forced on to remaining staff.

So JOIN THE LOBBY TOMORROW. Tell Lewisham Council to stop pretending that defending education in one of their schools is 'illegal' and to start carrying out their responsibilities to one of its community schools.

A parent speaks up in support of teachers' action