Teachers, school workers, parents, councillors, children and others marched through central London on Tuesday evening. Up to 500 braved the rain and freezing temperatures to protest against education cuts.
The Tories say that more money is going into education than ever. But rising costs and pupil numbers mean that schools face a real terms cut.
Miranda, a teacher from Islington in north London, explained what this means. “Some students need physical support to get around the school, but they aren’t getting it,” she told Socialist Worker.
“We’re losing creative subjects. We’re losing teachers left, right and centre because they can’t afford to live in London. And we can’t afford to employ new staff.”
Kevin Courtney told the crowd there was “a special place in hell” for Tories who lie about school funding.
Caroline Kalu is a parent and councillor in Lewisham, south London. “In my children’s school all the teaching assistants have gone,” she told Socialist Worker. “They were made redundant. Can you imagine – a class of 30 students and just one teacher?”
Caroline said that the lack of support for students led to more exclusions, as there are no staff to deal with challenging behaviour. “Nobody is monitoring where they are when they are excluded,” she said.
“Mothers have to go out to work – I’m a mother of four and I know how hard it is. Cuts mean there’s nowhere for children to go. Some end up in gangs because they can’t see anything else.”
Hassan, a parent from Tottenham in north London, said there was an “emotional build-up” from the impact of school cuts. “It’s very hard for parents to see it,” he told Socialist Worker. “They should take more tax from big businesses and put it into schools.”
Miranda agreed. “We should make companies pay their fair share of tax,” she said. “They use our infrastructure. We should also look at the whole tax system. Paying a bit more is nothing to the very rich.”
Protesters marched to the Department for Education chanting, “We march in rain, we march in snow – Damien Hinds has got to go.”
The education secretary is just one of those ministers who has rattled off the rhetoric about “more money” going into schools.
At a rally after the march, joint general secretary of the NEU union Kevin Courtney attacked those ministers. He told the crowd there was “a special place in hell” for Tories who lie about school funding.
“The government is trying to pretend that the cuts aren’t real,” he said. “Actions like this mean they are not getting away with that.”
There was a standing ovation for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as he joined the rally. He said he didn’t want education to be “dependent on parents’ wealth” or the postcode children lived in.
He promised that Labour would “return to the principle of a family of schools” – a reference to how the Tories have broken up the education system with privately-run academies.
He denounced the “asset-stripping, rip-off society where the rich get richer”. And he said, “We will raise corporation tax to end the student fee system.”
Courtney ended the rally on a confident tone. NEU members are currently voting in an indicative ballot on whether they would be prepared to strike to stop cuts and fight for better pay.
Jane, a teacher from Hackney in east London, told Socialist Worker that strikes at her school had successfully stopped some cuts.
Courtney said that he “really, really” didn’t want strikes. Union leaders and officials often say this because they know that workers care about the services they provide.
But he also said, “We want members to commit to strike action as the next step in this campaign.
“We want the biggest yes vote in the ballot. We believe we can have popular industrial action that is supported by parents. A national demonstration on a national day of strike action – I think parents will come with us.
“We are ramping it up.”
Courtney added, “We are thankful for the support from Labour’s front bench. But it’s our actions that make the difference. It’s time for us to fight back.”