Education is a postcode lottery. Where we’re from, how good the local school is, and how well it caters towards our educational needs all impact our future. The disparity between schools is becoming clearer as cuts to funding affect the poorest areas and many schools struggle to fill the gap to give every child an equal education.
Over the past four years, children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have lost £1.2bn worth of services. Children with additional needs are left to fall behind; from a young age their chances of going to university or getting their dream job are limited by the government’s ruthless cuts.
My friend recently did work experience in a primary school; she saw first-hand the increasing class sizes, which naturally put more strain on teachers. Schools can’t afford to run music or arts subjects anymore. Staff also face pay cuts and job losses; in some schools, teachers have taken voluntary pay cuts to stop teaching assistants’ jobs from being axed. Teaching assistants are essential to coping with increasing class sizes yet it’s the staff who make huge personal sacrifices because the government don’t care.
Cash-strapped schools are asking parents for donations. When my younger sister started at the local state sixth-form college two years ago, parents were asked to donate at least £50. This might not sound a lot, but some families don’t just have a spare £50 lying around, nor should any family have to pay for ‘free’ education. Some schools are even having to close on Friday afternoons because they cannot afford to stay open for a full week.
It’s difficult to comprehend how the government can watch children and families suffer because of their cuts to education. A few years ago, schools started to blame local government for the funding crisis, so we saw the rise in academies – and more recently Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs). Academies are autonomous – their funding comes from central government and the academy decides how to distribute it.
Academisation is effectively privatisation. These MATs are run as businesses by executive heads with a career history in business and no previous experience in education. Research from the Sutton Trust found that two thirds of MATs are performing below average for disadvantaged children. Executive staff members make redundancies, enforce brutal cuts to additional needs support, put teachers under unmanageable pressure to increase student attainment, while giving themselves a huge pay rise. This alone encapsulates the divide between rich and poor – which academies cause to increase; executive heads make money on the back of their cuts to subject departments, staff wages and additional needs support.
The increase in academies sets a worrying precedent for the future of education. If schools are run like businesses, then what happens to individual children who need additional support? What happens to the teachers who are forced to spread their talent so thinly to teach bigger classes? Privatising state schools completely contradicts the meaning of a state school.
If more funding were pumped into local government – especially in areas worst affected by child poverty – state schools would be able to thrive. Schools where teachers have enough resources, time and support; not schools, businesses even, that measure use spreadsheets to measure success. This funding must be regulated and channelled to the departments where it’s needed most. This way, quality of education would no longer come down to something as arbitrary as your postcode because every school would be able to meet every student’s individual needs.