The pandemic has exacerbated the crises facing Britain’s education system. The latest Tory proposals to help pupils catch up are a pitiful response. To save our schools and students, we need to expropriate the rich and put workers in control.

The pandemic has exacerbated the crises facing Britain’s education system. The latest Tory proposals to help pupils catch up are a pitiful response. To save our schools and students, we need to expropriate the rich and put workers in control.

“It’s pitiful”; “It’s a damp squib”; “It’s doing education on the cheap”. These were just some of the remarks heard after the Tories recently announced plans to spend just £1.5 billion on the Education Recovery Programme – a mere £500 million more than last year’s ‘eat out to help out’ scheme.

The government’s ‘education tsar’ Kevan Collins promptly resigned in protest.

Left behind

Due to the Tories’ bungling of the pandemic, schools were twice forced to close over the past year. The government’s refusal to follow the advice of the NEU (National Education Union) led to 22 weeks of in-school learning being lost, putting pupils up to seven months behind in their studies.

The IFS estimates that if nothing is done, this would translate into a £40,000 hit to the average lifetime income for the 8.5 million school students affected by COVID-19.

But this average hides large inequalities, with many pupils struggling to participate in online learning during lockdowns. At the start of this year, for example, one million students still lacked access to a laptop, desktop, or tablet.

Tory austerity

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Some had high hopes that the start of summer would warm the Tories’ hearts regarding the plight they have created.

The education tsar had been pushing for a £15bn deal, or £700 per pupil – still far less than the £1500 per pupil proposal pushed in the US, or the £2500pp plan put forward in the Netherlands. 

Nevertheless, even this meagre generosity was not forthcoming. Instead, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak will spend just £50 for each secondary school student. Under-11s will receive only £22. 

Most of this money will never even see schools directly. None of it is going towards the £11bn gaping hole that is required to fix decrepit infrastructure in state schools. Nor will teachers see a penny more, despite experiencing an average £4,000 fall in real wages since 2009.

Instead, the money will primarily go towards the National Tutoring Programme (NTP). This is despite criticism from teachers that the programme’s quality is not assured; that it is too independent from the school curriculum; and that it is failing to make use of the resources and knowledge already in schools. 

Incidentally, the NTP will soon be taken over by the private company Randstad – the latest in a long line of dodgy deals and outsourced contracts, benefitting Tory chums and cronies: from PPE procurement; to test and trace; to free school meals.

Education in crisis

Not only is the NTP another excuse for private parasites to siphon money from the public purse, but it is also seen by the government as a short-term fix for a problem that capitalism cannot solve.

Long before COVID, it was clear that the education system in Britain was in crisis. In 2018, it was found that the poorest students were almost three years behind their wealthier peers.

The pandemic has amplified these inequalities, with 10 times as many poor children reported as being at least six months behind in school compared to those from rich households, even before the second and third lockdowns. 

The NEU has been clear: a long-term plan is required. There are no short-term fixes.

Schools are chronically underfunded and at overcapacity. Teachers are being worked to exhaustion. 60-hour working weeks are common. And 1-in-4 teachers leave the profession in the first three years.

One third of children in the UK are in poverty. And all the while, profit-seeking vultures circle menacingly.

Schools need more staff. Staff need more pay. Students need more resources. And a serious long-term plan is needed to tackle the crisis in education. But the Tories – whose only concern is the profits of big business – will never tackle these urgent problems.

Expropriate the billionaires

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Labour under ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer, meanwhile, has offered little better. The Labour leadership has called for £15bn in funding – but again this is still far behind international standards, and is completely insufficient.

Shadow ministers have focused on breakfast and afterschool clubs, but have refused to look at the underlying problems. And while they talk about greater mental health support in schools, this is merely a sticking plaster for the 700,000 children pushed into poverty since 2010

Just like the Tories, Starmer is not listening to the workers and the unions. His proposals are nothing but cheap, opportunistic, political scoring points, which fail to provide a genuine solution.

The limited nature of the proposals on offer is a reflection of the state of British capitalism. We are in the midst of the deepest economic crisis in 300 years. Instead of genuine reforms, the capitalist system can provide only counter-reforms and cuts.

The only way to protect pupils and save our schools, therefore, is to fund education through the expropriation of the bosses, bankers, and billionaires.

The labour movement must fight to kick out the Tories and bring in a workers’ government that will:

  • Establish a National Education Service, from cradle-to-grave, to provide a long-term plan to solve the education crisis.
  • Reverse the cuts to teachers’ pay, with a mass union-led recruitment drive to bring back those who have left the profession.
  • Kick the profiteers out of schools! Put teachers and workers in control!
  • Fund education through expropriation!