Why campaigns such as Worth Less are essential in achieving social justice

Today, the parents of around 3.5 million school pupils will receive letters from their headteachers, advising them on the continued pressures facing school funds. It is a sad state of affairs that the country, the fifth largest economy in the world, finds itself in this position. In fact, it is a national disgrace.

Coordinated by the #WorthLess campaign, an independent, non-partisan group of heads from across the country, the letter reiterates the main concerns over funding:

  • Since 2010, school budgets have been reduced in real terms by 8% – and by 20% at post-16.
  • Class sizes are rising and the curricular offer is being restricted.
  • Increasingly, schools are being asked to support children’s emotional health and wellbeing, beyond even a broad understanding of their educational responsibilities. Frequently, we do not have adequate resource to meet this growing need.
  • Often, the most vulnerable students in our schools – those from disadvantaged backgrounds or those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) – are bearing the brunt of cuts and schools are struggling to provide the levels of support that they are entitled to.

These concerns have been repeatedly ignored at ministerial level, with requests to meet with the representative group continually rebuffed. This does not bode well for the outcome of the comprehensive spending review (CSR), during which government departments must advise the Treasury on how much more, or less, money is needed to run effectively. Those hoping for a cash injection after the CSR may be disappointed.

Indeed, in their evidence to the independent STRB, the body who advise on teachers’ pay and conditions, the DfE have suggested that a 2% rise (which is below the rate of inflation), a) will help to address teacher retention and recruitment; and b) can be funded by current school budgets, with no additional cash from the Department or the Treasury.

This shows a complete lack of understanding of the issues affecting schools. If heads are being asked just to put teachers in front of classes of 30, for 25 hours a week, this is probably just about manageable for most schools (although some in poorly funded areas are already struggling to do this). But today’s letter highlights the myriad of other functions that schools are asked to perform, but are unable to provide. A TES article this week highlighted the rise in the number of schools asking for parental contributions in order to provide core services.

For many schools, funding a 2% rise to all pay thresholds this coming academic year would be crippling.

Moreover, the government (including the prime minister and education secretary) have continually misled the public in terms of the level of school funding, and have been rapped by the independent regulator for this. It is simply unacceptable for a government to mislead its electorate on any issue, but particularly on one that has such an impact on young people’s life chances.

The 2% uplift to all pay scales, recommended by the DfE, is, yet again, below the rate of inflation – meaning that teachers will be worse off again in 2020. A report from the Education Support Partnership suggests that some classroom teachers are having to revert to using foodbanks, and that almost 250 teachers and education workers are facing homelessness. This is a shocking indictment of education funding in 2019.

The heads who have written to parents and carers today are relentlessly reasonable people: trusted members of the local community, choosing to make a difference to the lives of thousands. Their actions have been driven only by a desire not to jeopardise their young people’s outcomes.

Ultimately, it is a matter of social justice. Over the coming months, SSAT will be working with schools, partners and other stakeholders to explore a concept of deep social justice, which expresses a belief that every single child should leave school fully prepared to lead successful and fulfilling lives in the future. We will not achieve this as a nation if we do not fund education properly.

All the things that are essential in achieving social justice – the extra-curricular clubs that build character traits and virtues; the time for personal reflection and discussion that leads to learner autonomy and metacognition; the school trips and visits that build cultural capital – are being cut. Support roles such as CAHMS, librarians, school nurses and counsellors have all been cut; which inevitably affect the most disadvantaged students the most.

This is particularly acute at primary and EYFS, where children and families have missed out on vital services, such as Sure Start, which will only expand the existing gap between the haves and the have-nots. SSAT’s chief executive Sue Williamson will be exploring the impact of ‘the children of austerity’ in a blog published this weekend, and in her pamphlet Deep support for social justice later this year.

If the government believes in social justice it must recognise this, and must act. If you, reader, believe in social justice please do support campaigns such as #WorthLess, and work with us over the coming year to explore what schools can do in the current climate to promote social justice even more deeply than ever before.

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