Cash-strapped teachers are paying for basic teaching equipment using their own money
Every government seems to have big plans for education. From the beautiful dream of high quality universal early years provision, embodied by Tessa Jowell’s Sure Start centres, to the Victorian nightmare of Michael Gove’s curriculum reforms, it is clear that politicians see education as a vehicle for progress – or, indeed, regress as the case may be.
With this in mind, what is the flagship policy for Theresa May’s coalition of chaos? A couple more grammar schools? Gimmicky T-levels? No, it seems yet more austerity is the order of the day, leading to school support staff spending their own money on essentials for students.
A recent GMB survey found that ‘more than half of school support staff feel they have to spend their own money on things for children at cash-strapped schools’ – this includes everything from playground equipment to toilet paper – indicative of the ‘significant financial cut backs’ that 78 per cent of staff surveyed say they have been forced to make as a result of Conservative shortfalls in education funding.
Testimonies from my fellow GMB members tell of an education system, and a country, stretched to breaking point, with staff regularly paying for lunches for children without dinner money, providing them with sanitary towels, and replenishing stationery in the classroom. My union’s president Barbara Plant – a former teaching assistant – lambasts May’s government, saying that ‘staff are left out of pocket’ for bringing in basic necessities – calling it ‘the desperate situation facing so many of our schools’.
Yet this situation looks set only to get worse as a result of changes to free school meals, which the GMB has found may affect up to 2.6 million children by 2022, according to an as yet unpublished analysis by the department for education.
This is a slap in the face for teachers who have faced pay restraint for nearly a decade. The NASUWT teachers’ union released figures about their cash-strapped members. 33 per cent of those who completed the union’s 2018 Annual Big Question Survey have had to delay essential household repairs, 32 per cent have increased their use of credit and nearly one in 10 (eight per cent) have had to take a second job on top of their highly demanding teaching responsibilities.
With rising inequality, increasing precarity in the labour market, and a decimation of funding for social services, the education system is often the last refuge – and only opportunity – for the most deprived children and young people in our society. Yet, it seems that far from being a vision for the future, May’s vision for education seeks to emulate the worst failures of the past.
Rania Ramli is a GMB member and BME officer at Labour Students
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.