As a teacher, I know that more of us will leave the profession if the Tories win this election

In schools like mine in London, children already come to school in uniforms that don't fit, carrying plastic bags instead of backpacks 

Click to follow
The Independent Online

As a teacher, I despair at the state of education. I’m not the only one. Teachers are leaving the profession in staggeringly high numbers and very few are coming in. We stand on the edge of a crisis. Seven years of Tory cuts to school budgets has taken its toll on our education system. I welcome the fact that Jeremy Corbyn has put education at the heart of his manifesto and is addressing core concerns of teachers and parents, such as halting cuts, increasing funding, reducing class sizes, providing free school meals and restoring allowances for low-income students.

Tory cuts have hit most of British society, but their attacks on education will leave a particularly lasting scar. Despite promises to protect school funding, budgets have actually been frozen at 2010 levels. The newly proposed funding formula does not account for rising costs and increases in pupil numbers. In real terms, about half of schools face reductions in per-pupil spending of between 6 and 11 per cent in the next two years.

While young people bear the brunt of cuts, the Conservatives are pouring taxpayer’s money into private sector academies— which end up lining the pockets of their cronies. Shortly after the government announced that schools would have to find savings of £3bn, which amounts to the average salary of around 100,000 teachers, the chancellor Phillip Hammond, unveiled plans to spend £320m on expanding the government’s free school programme.

General Election polls and projections: May 31

The strangling of our education system has provoked an outcry from parents and teachers. Schools faced with tighter budgets are being forced to make impossible choices that they know will have a detrimental impact on children’s education— reducing teachers, teaching assistants, support staff, books, and IT resources. Teachers and parents have taken to the streets and launched campaigns warning of the crippling consequences of austerity.

It is unsurprising that so many teachers are at the end of their tether. Teachers who came into the profession with a dream and a vocation are being strangled by huge workloads of over 60 hours a week, a pay freeze and classroom under resourcing that makes it near impossible to do their role to the ambitious standards they hold themselves to.

Head teachers are warning that this year will be the worst to hit schools in a generation, with some forced to write begging letters to parents to pay for basics like books and teacher’s salaries. Many are dropping after school programmes, peripatetic teaching and PE teachers.

This comes during a time when cuts are driving deeper inequalities between schools and between children. According to an analysis carried out for the Labour party, the government’s changes to spending will disproportionately impact more deprived areas.

In schools like mine in London, children already come to school in uniforms that don't fit, carrying plastic bags instead of backpacks. Some sleep on sofas and floors because of poor or unavailable housing. School should be a safe haven where children can grow and learn, where there are sufficient adults to support, not just their academic requirements, but their pastoral needs too.

The Conservatives’ elimination of the Education Maintenance Allowance and student grants reinforced inequalities in our education system. Coupled with cuts to higher education and obscene tuition fees, here is one of the roots of the teacher shortage problem: there are now fewer students going into university teacher training courses to start with, year on year.

Teachers, like myself, go into the profession because we want to inspire creativity and learning. Instead, we find ourselves acting as shock-absorbers against the impact of Tory austerity. Classes are oversized and under-resourced, the curriculum is subject to constant political interference and students and teachers alike are under constant pressure from exams and league tables.

The colleagues of mine that began with the most enthusiasm for the job are the ones who are now most disillusioned by it. Talented and committed teachers are leaving education altogether precisely because they cannot work in the socially— and morally— repulsive conditions schools are being forced to impose. The Tory manifesto offers more of the same old misery.

In contrast, Labour’s policy to provide free school meals to all primary school children will let teachers get on with the job they are meant to be doing— educating. Hungry tummies can't learn. Something as simple as this shouldn't even be an issue in Britain, which is one of the richest countries in the world.

Our education system is at a crossroads. If we do not address the impending funding and recruitment problems, the whole system could collapse. Jeremy Corbyn is proposing to put the principles of fairness and equality back at the heart of education, and to create a society that works for the many, not just the privileged few. As a teacher, I welcome that.

Caroline Hill is chair of Young Labour