It has been a big few weeks for education policy in the UK, which started with the controversy over Justine Greening’s new plans for grammar schools. To me this is an archaic proposal that would undo work that has been done to close the attainment gap for lower income students, and stifle opportunity from a younger age. But whatever your opinion on the grammar schools debate, you have to admit that not enough has been said about what will happen to the schools that don’t become grammar schools, and the students that don’t get into them, that would inevitably suffer the most.
While the government proposes huge new educational changes like grammar schools, there are many places in the UK where state schools are already not getting anywhere near the funding they need. This week it was announced that West Sussex schools might have to go down to a four-day week because of insufficient funding. Mark Antiss, headteacher of The Felpham Community College, told the Guardian that for some schools in the area cutting hours might be the only option, as they had already been reducing spending on IT and books, providing a more basic curriculum and increasing class sizes.
It will obviously be schools in poorer communities that bare the brunt of these cuts – and it isn’t just the children who would be affected by them. Single parents would be hit harder as they would have to come up with childcare arrangements for an extra day each week.
Headteachers and parents in West Sussex have come together to form the ‘WorthLess? West Sussex Schools Campaign for Fairer Funding’ which has an impressive 20,000 likes on Facebook. Their main ask is for £20 million in transitional funding to tide them over, and will be giving evidence to the government next week. Looking cynically at the press coverage of the issue it might not be true that a four-day week is truly on the cards, and it may have been suggested by the campaign to attract media attention. If so, it’s working, and regardless has highlighted both the urgency of the situation, and how much people are willing to rally behind education causes.
Towards the end of the last Labour government, the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ initiative began, promising a £55 billion investment in facilities in state schools around the UK. To go from that, just after the recession no less, to funding cuts so severe a four-day week is a likely prospect, is an incredibly dramatic shift.
Surely, the best education policies are those that are built on the idea that no child is left behind. State funded education is perhaps, except maybe the NHS, our most precious resource. At a time when immigration is being slashed, it is difficult to see where the government expects skilled workers to come from if they simultaneously refuse to invest in the future generations. We must not let them use new policies like grammar schools as a smoke screen for the chronic underfunding of the education sector as a whole.
Image credit: Victor Björkbund