In a recent National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) poll, 84% of those questioned reported that they were providing additional support to students from poverty-stricken homes. In the face of mass austerity, schools have had to try and plaster over the wounds left by the crisis of capitalism.
Cuts to education have resulted in the slashing and burning of the adult education budget; increasing numbers of teachers hired on zero-hour contracts; a proposed 10% decrease in future funding; the closure of Sure Start centres; and extensive workloads for teachers.
Now, in a recent National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) poll, 84% of those questioned reported that they were providing additional support to students from poverty-stricken homes. It is estimated that as much as £43.5m spent on emergency and additional support this year alone.
Providing the basics
The effect of the deep education cuts and “reforms” to welfare have meant a squeezing of school and family budgets, resulting in widespread poverty. Despite the tight squeeze, schools have been attempting to cover for the abandoned responsibilities of the state by providing students with basic amenities such as food, underwear, P.E kits and stationary – basic provisions that families are unable to afford as a consequence of the cuts.
“At one school, all pupils were provided with toothbrushes and instructed to brush their teeth twice a day.” (Independent, 1/5/15)
We have heard of the effects of the Tory-Liberal fiasco before, but this report demonstrates how much people have been dragging themselves along, unmentioned by media and politicians (surprise surprise), for the past five years. People are coping at best, relying on the good will of their communities, and barely scraping by at worst.
Despite the existence of food-banks, schools are providing additional food for children who have not eaten breakfast and bring extra packed lunches for the poorest of pupils. Where the Sure Start centres have closed, schools are being relied on for additional childcare, providing before- and after-school clubs to support parents who must work, or whose children are displaced across multiple schools due to the squeeze on places. Even though schools are places of learning, teachers are paying for stationary out of their own pockets so that pupils can complete work.
But the most galling part of this story by far is the fact that it is not just additional gaps that teachers are plugging here – not just food that they are buying or head-lice treatment, things that poor parents can’t afford; it is basics that the school should be buying anyway: stationary, P.E kits, even school-dinners. Teachers are not only stretched in terms of work load but, as has now been revealed, through their pockets as well. In the face of 10% cuts to school education, how exactly do the government think further cuts will play out?
Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the NAHT, couldn’t speak a truer word when he said in the Observer on Sunday (3/5/15): “Regardless of the promise to protect education spending in the next parliament, cuts to other public services will come home to roost at the school gates.” Put simply, schools and teachers are footing the bill for this government’s cuts, and children and families are paying the price through poverty.
It’s not just been material goods such as food and clothing that schools have been providing. It has also been mental health support, childcare and administration support for parents filling out complicated forms so that their children can be supported at school.
The problem here is twofold. In the first instance, this kind of poverty is directly caused by low-paying jobs and cuts to welfare support. Millions of people in work rely on food banks to survive. In the second, the problem is fuelled by the fact that benefits that could go a long way to helping alleviate some of the burdens of poverty are inaccessible to many. Universal credit can now only be applied for online or, if you don’t own a computer, by phone costing up to 40p per minute.
The funding received by schools that should support these children, through schemes such as the free-school meals, must be applied for by the parents, not the school. This means that the burden of arranging support lies entirely with the already over-worked parents. This has become another area where teachers have stepped in to help parents make these arrangements.
What’s telling is that the majority of the poll (66.58%) said that their schools were now providing services that have been cut by this government but were previously a state-funded provision, including health and social care.
Of course schools will continue to do all that they can to support their students and families as best as possible. However, with a further 10% cut proposed by the Tories – should they remain in parliament following tomorrow’s election – further hardship will be the future for these families and students, as well as the schools and teachers who are helping them.
It’s sickening when finance is flowing as freely as ever between donors and the Tory party, who last week, it was reported, received over £1.3m from donors (Guardian 5/5/15). And this doesn’t even touch on the fact that, in addition to the effect of the cuts, it is profit driven companies bleeding working people dry who are at fault in the rise of inequality and the polarisation of wealth. It is children who have paid for the financial crisis under the Tories.
In order to resolve this financial fiasco and provide much needed support to families who need it, the NAHT has called for interdepartmental cooperation between schools, funding bodies and the government. But shifting responsibility and pennies around will do nothing to alleviate this disaster.
Money in the hands of the few
The money is there, it exists and it circulates amongst the tightly clenched fists of investors and the already wealthy. But we cannot use it to ensure that children go to school with food in their bellies and pens to write with. No amount of tinkering with capitalism will change this fact.
To provide children with a basic standard of living, to educate future generations and to eradicate poverty we must utilise the wealth that is hoarded by the rich and distribute it evenly through crucial services like education, health and social care.
This will only be possible if we expropriate the wealth of the millionaires and take what is ours from them. Only through a socialist society can we guarantee the future of education, of providing a basic standard of living for everyone, and preventing the poorest in society from relying on the hardly-better-off for truly basic amenities.