By Liam Conway
Charles Clarke stumbles from one cock-up to another. But, clearly, the Government has no plans to take the funding crisis seriously, otherwise it wouldn’t have set up a committee led by Two Jags Prescott to investigate what happened to the £500 million Clarke says has been siphoned off from schools’ budgets.
Recent history tells us that this government is adept at sleight of hand when it comes to public sector funding. Schools have been victims of this “now you see it, now you don’t” approach, on more than one occasion. A few years back Blunkett made a big show in the Commons of a so-called £19 billion increase in funding. The Government basked in favourable press headlines. The fact that no such money existed was barely reported when Nick Davies of the Guardian discovered that Blunkett’s education department was guilty of double counting and treble counting money that was already in the system.
This year the Government says that record amounts of money are going into schools but, unlike with military spending, this is not reflected in troops and resources on the ground.
A school in Croydon last week sent home 500 students for an early half-term break because it couldn’t afford to staff its classes. One parent governor said that, despite huge increases in costs, the schools budget wasn’t “much more than last year”.
This is not an isolated case, and an NUT survey shows that there are about 3,000 teacher redundancies across the country.
Now, for some strange reason, media pundits and most trade union leaders take government announcements at face value.
Some, like Doug McAvoy, will even try to convince you that Labour’s record on education is praiseworthy. The reality is that in New Labour we are dealing with serial liars.
And the lies continue when we look at the latest announcement on SATs. Clarke claims there will be a major revision of Key Stage 1 tests for seven-year-olds. They will, if we believe Clarke, be less formal, and teachers will have greater input in their administration.
But look beneath the rhetoric that says children should learn for fun and you will see that the tests at seven will remain. Children in England will still take them and parents will still get the results.
There will still be tests, targets and league tables at age 11. At age 14 tests will still be used as a means to decide who will do well at GCSE and who will not. Clarke says schools can set their own targets, but experience tells teachers, especially those working in socially deprived areas, that if they set them too low, or fail to meet “national standards”, their local education authority, or Ofsted, or both, will be breathing down their necks.
There is no u-turn on testing, but, once again, the Government’s tricks with smoke and mirrors appear to have fooled the NUT leadership.
“Charles Clarke,” says McAvoy, “has taken a welcome first step in recognising the damaging and stifling effects of National Curriculum tests and national targets on primary schools.”
Clarke has made no such step, and activists in the NUT along with other teachers, teaching assistants, parents and trade unions, must continue to prepare for next year’s boycott of all SATs.
A conference of NUT local branches has been called for 28 June to discuss how we build the boycott.
It will meet at South Camden Community College near Kings Cross, London and be open to all school staff as well as parents.
NUT activists should aim to make this conference as big as possible, but we also need to find ways to stoke the flames of rebellion over the funding crisis. So far the NUT, like the other teaching unions, has simply engaged in a war of words with Clarke. Such a strategy will not add one extra penny to schools budgets, but it will certainly encourage the government to invent more invisible funding in years to come, whilst passing the buck to local councils when the fake dosh disappears.