Cuts put education under attack

Jonny Walker 22 October 2009

In 1996, at the Labour Party Conference, Tony Blair famously stated that his top three priorities on coming to office were ‘education, education, education’. In 2009, as the New Labour project drifts inexorably towards its terminus, Ed Balls, the Minister in charge of education, has set out to cut 5%, £2bn, from schools funding.

Throughout the duration of the New Labour administration, there has been tolerance of, followed by flirtation with, followed by an opened armed welcome to, market forces. New Labour continued in much the same vein as Thatcher – favouring deregulation and free trade, neo-liberal policies and privatisation. Despite their spin in the run-up to the 1997 elections, Labour were evidently not the new modest socialism that the country voted for. In fact, the gap between rich and poor has grown constantly since 1979, and Labour has barely even slowed it down.

And now the shit has well and truly hit the fan. Banks are collapsing, big businesses such as Woolworths have disappeared from the high street, small vendors are being forced to close their shops, the nation is in huge personal debt, our industry is being outsourced to countries with a less expensive labour force and there are close to 2.5m unemployed. And who is going to foot the bill?

Us, of course!

The government plans to make its biggest cuts in public services – in health, education, housing, justice, culture… And Balls’ plan is to reduce the number of head-teachers and senior management – federations of schools will develop, meaning a management team can run numerous schools simultaneously to save money. This comes only months after the very same department welcomed the need for greater personalisation of educational provision, in the form of personal tutors and so on. Balls seem to be of the misguided opinion that head-teachers are little other than bureaucrats, commodities that can be disposed and dispensed at will.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Balls said “If we are going to keep teachers and teaching assistants on the front line that means we are going to have to be disciplined on public sector pay, including in education.” How bloody generous of him. It’s nice that he is showing the courtesy to those working in education by not getting rid of their jobs to plug a deficit caused by his government’s wanton liberalism; it’s nice that he is only going to curb their pay. Similarly, after asserting that he hopes that comprehensives may come together into federations with a single head-teacher and a number of deputies, he adds “But we are not going to have larger class sizes.”

Again, very generous, despite the fact that class sizes are already far too large, and this is having a detrimental effect on learning and is affecting those of lowest ability the most.

Schools will also be expected to cut back on their purchasing of books, teaching equipment and computers and individual schools are expected to make 10% spending cuts.

My God. Education is Labour’s pride and joy, along with the NHS. If this is what the government is doing to Education, I dread to think what will be cut in other public services. The issue is that school children and teachers should not be punished for the laissez-faire capitalism of City bankers and the government’s selective myopia to inequality. I don’t know how Ed Ball dares state that he is doing something good for the teachers by not kicking them out of their jobs to save money.

If Balls is looking to make some saving cuts for his department, he should look a little closer to home. The DCSF which Balls heads has more than its fair share of policy wonks; certainly enough to be able to churn out contradictory policy findings and agree with both, before deciding they haven’t the money for either. Or maybe Labour should drop its commitment to ID cards or Trident; both of which are far less necessary and financially profligate.

This does not bode well. Cuts may well be necessary, but certainly not in education.

Jonny Walker