Schools and colleges across Britain are desperately struggling against the severe consequences of austerity, government inaction, and the crisis of capitalism.
As the RAAC crisis fades from the headlines, the impact is still being hard-felt by staff and students like myself. The government was aware of the risks of ‘crumbly concrete’ for years, and now we’re being made to pay the price for their negligence.
Some schools have been forced to close partially or altogether due to this scandal. In my own sixth form, the library, multiple classrooms, and two study areas are closed off.
Students can’t even have hot meals because the canteen is inaccessible. This issue affects students on free school meals the most, as this is often their only hot meal of the day.
The Tories’ incompetence has endangered the lives of 700,000 students. Yet education secretary Gillian Keegan has the audacity to demand praise for her government’s handling of the situation! This feels like a slap in the face.
Schools falling apart
But the RAAC crisis is only one aspect of the larger crisis affecting schools. The problem runs much deeper.
Due to decades of relentless cuts imposed by the Tories, schools are being forced to reduce spending to the bare minimum to stay afloat. This means slashing essential classroom resources, leaving students without the support and resources they need.
And with maintenance budgets cut to the bone, many schools are left dilapidated. As one headteacher at a college in Oldham explained to the Financial Times:
“Ever since its opening, Newman [college] has had faulty heating and a leaking roof. Ten to 12 classrooms a day get flooded when it rains.”
In my own school, it feels like things are falling apart. At the entrance to the school, a makeshift cordon has been put up with a sign that says “Caution: falling debris…please approach with caution on the right-hand side.” As if approaching with caution will stop debris falling onto our heads!
Many schools have had to make the difficult decision to cut back on and even remove some of their subjects and extracurricular activities. This prevents students from having a diverse and fulfilling education.
And even on the courses that remain, students are left with a revolving door of temporary supply teachers. There’s no stability at all, and this has a disastrous impact on learning.
At home, things are no better for a lot of kids. Living standards are plummeting due to the crisis of capitalism. It is estimated that a shocking 4.2 million children (29 per cent) are currently living below the poverty line.
And poverty doesn’t get left behind at the school gate. Teachers have reported students turning up late because they can’t afford the bus. Others are working part-time jobs for more hours than is legally permitted in order to get by.
As the headteacher in Oldham explained, many of these impoverished students do not qualify for free school meals. This forces them to seek scraps and leftovers at the end of lunchtime, or their parents to rack up hundreds in debt to pay for school meals.
And on top of all of this, students are forced to do homework in public places, as their household cannot afford WiFi. And as evictions skyrocket, students living in temporary accommodation report having nowhere to do their homework at all.
This is the environment that a whole section of young people are growing up in. The cards are stacked against them when it comes to getting good grades and preparing themselves for the future.
With no other options, schools are being forced to step in to provide support for impoverished students.
Despite struggling themselves, individual teachers have resorted to buying food for hungry students out of their own pockets.
In the wake of a huge mental health crisis and soaring NHS waiting lists, school counselling and mental health support services are under intense pressure as well.
One teacher said that referrals for suicidal thoughts and self-harm have risen “exponentially” since the pandemic, meaning the school “cannot cope with the demand”.
In Newman College, the school hardship fund – which once went towards children who couldn’t afford school trips – is now being spent on bus fares, stationery, warm coats, and shoes.
With budgets already squeezed, this situation is clearly untenable. Schools – which are themselves in deep crisis – are desperately sticking plasters over the gaping cracks in society.
This situation has become unbearable for teachers and staff. A survey has shown that 75% of educational staff experience intolerable stress levels because of their workload.
Being face-to-face with the children facing poverty, homelessness, and mental illness will only add fuel to the fire.
Despite the essential role of teachers in society, their pay is being cut dramatically. Pay for experienced teachers has fallen by £6,600 on average since 2010.
Teachers are leaving the profession in droves. 40,000 left teaching last year alone. Schools are now battling with a staffing crisis, with vacancies left open for months on end. Without a drastic change, this is only set to get worse.
The crisis in schools can’t be resolved with a bit of extra funding here and there. Schools and colleges are becoming epicentres of all of the overlapping crises in society.
Students are increasingly saying enough is enough, and beginning to get organised. Communist clubs are being set up in schools all over Britain. Combined with teachers and staff, the potential to fight back is enormous.
The Tories have got to go. But Labour won’t fix this crisis either. The whole capitalist system is failing young people.
We must expropriate the bosses and use their billions to fund schools properly, eradicate homelessness, and lift millions of families out of poverty.
It is our job as students to get organised in the struggle to overthrow capitalism. If you want to build the forces of communism in your school or college, join the IMT today!