Under pressure from their own failures to make sure schools are in a position to safely open more widely, the Tories have committed to providing £1 billion for schools next year. However, the money comes with significant strings attached.
£350 million is for a national tutoring programme for “intensive catch-up support” of perhaps 15 hours of tuition for two million disadvantaged children. But some simple maths shows that works out at £175 per pupil at a cost of £12 per hour.
It’s clear the Tories aren’t looking at employing qualified teachers as tutors. No, this is a cut-price model relying on exploiting students and unemployed graduates instead. It will also be run through a few selected private agencies, which will also be taking a slice of the money for themselves. Just as they have done with the NHS, the Tories are trying to use the Covid crisis as a cover for further privatisation.
The other £650 million will be allocated to schools, but that’s only about £90 per pupil. As well as ‘catch-up’ tuition, schools are being asked to provide summer schemes, books, and laptops for pupils in greatest need.
Extra funding is always welcome, but this is “too little, too late”. Those books and laptops should have been provided when lockdown started. Summer playschemes and youth provision have fallen victim to years of austerity cuts to council services. School staff, who the Tories seem to forget have been working long hours supporting children throughout the ‘lockdown, certainly can’t be expected to ‘volunteer’ to run them. Central funding to councils is needed urgently.
£2 billion funding gap
Even before the crisis, schools needed over £2 billion extra a year to reverse school cuts. After the crisis, the primary educational need for children isn’t enforced numeracy and literacy ‘catch-up’ but a ‘recovery curriculum’ that focuses on their wellbeing, not an imposed test-driven curriculum.
The Tories are angry at trade unions in general and the National Education Union (NEU) in particular. Why? Because we’ve refused to meekly accept their reckless drive to open schools more widely. Instead, by demanding that the NEU’s ‘five tests’ need to be met first, we’ve been putting the safety of our members and school communities first.
Some scientists, like those on ISAGE (the independent alternative to the government’s scientific advisory body), have also refused to simply dance to the government tune. ISAGE has issued a new report condemning Covid-19 testing arrangements as being “chaotic and haphazard”, and contact tracing as being still “not fit for purpose”. It also says it is far too soon to reduce social distancing rules indoors from two metres to one metre.
That shows that the NEU has been absolutely right to demand that testing and tracing be functioning properly before schools open more widely, and that it’s simply not yet safe to try and pack full classes into schools, as the Tories want for September.
Unions must not buckle in the face of the onslaught from the Tories and the right-wing media. Instead of the public being encouraged to blame the unions for simply doing their job, the unions should be encouraging the public to place the blame squarely where it lies – with the government and its failing private sector allies.