Monday 27 April 2015

Education - the priorities for the next Government

Tonight, Lewisham NUT hosted a debate between Labour, Green and TUSC candidates on 'Education - the priorities for the next Government'. Here's a summary of the points I made:

TUSC is trying to build a new party so that trade unions don’t just have to make do with lobbying other parties to support union policies but gives us a way to secure our own elected representatives supporting those demands - and supporting trade union struggles to win them outside Parliament and Local Councils too. Our candidates include prominent trade unionists, including three of us who are members of the NUT National Executive.

The NUT's seven education pledges

So, for TUSC, the education priorities for the next Government are clear: they are the same as the priorities of the NUT, set out in the Union’s Manifesto, endorsed by TUSC, and their seven 'stand up for education pledges'.

(1) Tackle the teacher workload crisis

The statistics are stark: 50,000 teachers have resigned in a year, perhaps as many as 40% of newly-qualified staff.

Unless you're in the job, it's hard to explain the unbearable intensity of workload, added to by the bullying regime of Ofsted, league tables and performance-related pay. TUSC says they all have to go.

TUSC believes that a key priority for a new Government is to immediately open up genuine negotiations for a National Contract that applies to all schools, including academies, putting a binding limit on working hours and increasing PPA so that teachers have the time to mark and prepare.

(2) Protect education spending in real terms

In fact, TUSC would go further than the NUT's demand and say that we need to increase spending in order to be able to recruit more teachers – and that means:

(3) Ensure qualified teachers in every classroom – to meet children’s needs and to share out the workload burden.

However, whichever of the main parties wins – and whatever Coalition they cobble together – the outcome will be more cuts, including in education.

You don't have to take my word for it. This is what the budget experts, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, have worked out from the spending plans of the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats. The IFS predict budgets will be cut by at least 7% per child by 2020. That could mean 20,000 full-time teachers losing their jobs!

Sadly, it's no real surprise. After all, when George Osborne's plans for £30 billion more cuts were put to Parliament in January, 515 MPs voted for them, just 18 against!

TUSC is not prepared to accept austerity – we believe there’s plenty of money, just in wrong hands. The Sunday Times rich-list yesterday revealed that the wealthiest 1000 in the UK are now 'worth' £547BN (not counting what's in their bank accounts!) – that's up £28BN in a year. TUSC says we should use the wealth of that 1% to meet the needs of the 99%.

(4) Run education for children, not for profit

Unfortunately, we live in society where education is no longer seen by big business as a necessity to develop the next generation. Instead, it has become just another way to make money. Last Friday saw worldwide protest against Pearson, a company making over $7 billion a year from education. 

(5) Provide a broad curriculum, rather than narrow tests

These edu-businesses are behind the drive for standardisation, testing and tables so as to compare, ‘fail’ and privatise our schools. The main parties even back the introduction of 'baseline assessment' for four year-olds. TUSC, like NUT, will strongly oppose them. We want schools to develop interest, creativity and enjoyment not inflict mental stress and fear of failure.

TUSC is also completely opposed to academies and free schools. Academisation was always a mechanism to open up schools to education businesses and, at same time, remove democratic accountability over local education. TUSC would add an extra priority, calling for the: 

* Return of all academies back into democratic Local Authorities where parents, staff and local communities also have their own elected representatives to decide local education policy. That, of course, also means:

(6) Reinstate councils' powers to open new schools

Last but by no means least, we know that however well we teach, however many hours we put in, the conditions in which our children are brought up remain the key factor behind educational outcomes. 

(7) Take urgent steps to eradicate child poverty.
This Government has left a million more children in poverty, It has left London as one of most unequal cities on planet. Children who are living in sub-standard rented accommodation or without a home at all, or where parent(s) are working long hours for inadequate pay, have a struggle to live, let along learn and pass their exams.

That needs to be recognised by our politicians, instead of unfairly blaming schools like Sedgehill, a school with one of the most unbalanced pupil intakes in Lewisham.

To end child poverty, TUSC’s central demands are key: 

* For a £10 minimum wage now – not by 2020 or beyond
* For rent controls and a massive programme of renovation and house building

Those are TUSC’s priorities. Trade unionists need a political voice that will stand up for them – for better education, for a better NHS, against austerity and against attacks on trade unions and trade union members. Every vote for TUSC helps build that voice – please vote for us on May 7.

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