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Cuts that fail our class—the battle for education

This article is over 7 years, 11 months old
The struggle to defend education is taking off in England and Scotland. Sadie Robinson and Raymie Kiernan spoke to lecturers and students about how austerity is wrecking education—and how they’re fighting back
Issue 2494
Islington NUT union reps campaigning for action to defend sixth form education in north London
Islington NUT union reps campaigning for action to defend sixth form education in north London (Pic: Islington NUT )

The battle to defend education is on—and it’s a fight everyone needs to get behind. Tory cuts to sixth form colleges will snatch away working class people’s access to education. London schools could also face over 20 percent cuts under a new funding formula (see below).

And Scottish lecturers are fighting to defend a further education sector savaged by the Scottish National Party (see bottom).

Eileen Imlah is the EIS-Fela union branch secretary at New College Lanarkshire. She told Socialist Worker that a combination of mergers and cuts had caused “an unprecedented level of change to every aspect of college life”.

She added, “Courses have been cut for financial, not academic reasons—and courses for students with additional support needs and returning adults are the hardest hit.”

Michael Shepherd, an NUT union rep at north London’s Islington Sixth Form College, described a similar situation in England. “The government talks about equality, but the cuts will affect students from more working class backgrounds,” he said.

In England, sixth form colleges have suffered real terms cuts of 14 percent under the Tories. Some will have lost a third of their funding between 2011 and 2016.

Duncan Blackie, a sixth form college lecturer in Sheffield, said, “In one year students lost 8 percent teaching time because of funding cuts. A majority of teaching staff felt compelled to become part time because of the workload.”

Tom Woodcock from Cambridge told Socialist Worker the cuts could harm students’ wellbeing. He said, “Previously I was responsible for a tutor group of around 20 students.

“If they had health or mental health problems, I had time to talk to them about it. If they were missing lessons, I could ring the parents and have a discussion.

“Now we have nine support staff who do this work, instead of 120 teachers.”


Islington Sixth Form College student Conor said, “Class sizes are quite big now. Trips are no longer subsidised as they were before. Now things are either more expensive or they don’t exist. Instead of going places and learning, you’re just reading about them in books.”

Sixth form college cuts disproportionately hit working class and poorer students. Some 11 percent were eligible for free school meals at 15, compared to 8 percent of students in academies.

Duncan said, “School sixth forms in middle class schools will stay, but my sixth form college is under threat.”

The government wants to make further cuts of 8 percent to sixth form college funding. A Sixth Form Colleges Association survey last year found that 72 percent of sixth form colleges had cut courses due to funding cuts since 2011.

Duncan said this would lead to a two-tier system where top colleges “maintain full academic provision” and those for working class students see courses slashed.

Tom explained that “many courses are already being taught below the recommended number of learning hours.”

The cuts could force many colleges to close altogether. There were over 120 sixth form colleges in 1992—now there are 93.

But NUT members across England’s sixth form colleges struck against these attacks on Tuesday of this week.

Ken Muller, joint divisional secretary of Islington NUT, told Socialist Worker, “This is the first time the NUT has taken national action since the pay campaign in 2013.

“In the past sixth form college teachers haven’t been at the forefront of resistance. But now they are leading a battle to defend education.”

Ken said, “This action can be a boost to all those arguing for a return to national strikes over teachers’ pay and conditions and in defence of education.

Conor added, “I haven’t heard anybody who’s been against the strike. That’s quite surprising because A-Levels are coming up and people are preparing for exams.

The government lost a legal challenge to the ballot on Monday of this week. It argued that the strike was not a genuine trade dispute but a “political” dispute.

Tom said, “The government wants to wash its hands of this and say it’s nothing to do with them


“It says this isn’t a trade dispute because it isn’t about terms and conditions, but of course the funding cut is an attack on conditions.”

The government claims the cuts are down to individual employers. It wants to distance itself from sixth form colleges because its aim is not to be responsible for them at all.

The Sixth Form Colleges Association pointed out that Sixth Form Colleges have suffered deeper budget cuts than any other group of institutions. This reflects a nasty ideological agenda.

Ken said, “They are pressurising sixth forms to become academies.

“They’re telling sixth forms that if they become an academy, they won’t have to pay VAT. That’s about 4 percent they’d get back on any expenditure.”

Tom agreed. “This is not about saving money. In the Autumn Statement the Tories said they wanted 500 new technical colleges. New colleges are being set up—run by private firms or trusts.

“We’ve got a university technical college on our site, run by a trust. The college gave it the land for free. It’s got brand spanking new buildings but hardly anyone in them. It’s got 150 students. We’ve got two and a half thousand.

“The drive is not to a better quality of education. The Tories want sixth forms to be part of multi-academy trusts because then they can take over the buildings and the assets.

“And they want to make it impossible for sixth forms to stand alone.”

Fuming at funding fallacy

The Tories claim their new funding formula will get rid of “historical inequalities” in the funding system based on out of date demographic calculations.

Put simply this means some schools get more money to compensate for deprivation—and now the Tories want to take it away.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan said schools should have a flat

per-pupil fund which can be topped up if schools meet certain criteria.

The planned change is also geared towards weakening the link between schools and local authorities. Currently local authorities can decide how school funds are distributed across a local area.

The Tories moan that this can lead to discrepancies.

The NUT union pointed out that the national funding formula would “remove most local decision making” from schools funding.

What schools really need is more money. But the Tories have declared that schools will not be funded to cover inflation and other rising costs—meaning a cut of 8 percent in real terms.

The NUT said, “Areas which appear likely to gain funding under a new funding formula will in fact be worse off.

“Reallocated inadequate levels of overall funding will not address the funding crisis in education.”

The NUT used estimates from the f40 group of local authorities to look at the impact of the funding formula in London local authorities. It adjusted the figures to take account of the forecast CPI rate of inflation.

The figures show that 18 local authorities face cuts of 10 percent or more. Southwark faces an estimated cut of 20.1 percent and Hackney 22.4 percent.

And the reality could be even worse—as the figures don’t take account of increased costs relating to pensions and National Insurance.

Suffering at the hands of the SNP’s college cuts

EIS union activist Eileen Imlah

EIS union activist Eileen Imlah (Pic: Richie Bisset )

Scottish lecturers are fighting to defend further education from college bosses and the Scottish National Party (SNP). They were set to stage the biggest walkout in Scotland in over 20 years on Thursday.

A college mergers programme has brought shiny new buildings to some campuses, but cuts of a third have been devastating.

Student numbers have plummeted under the SNP—part-time students have halved and those aged 25 or older has fallen by 41 percent.

The mergers have meant the loss of many experienced staff—thousands of college workers’ jobs have gone under the SNP’s plan to make colleges “more efficient”.

Heavier workloads, bigger classes and fewer resources have left many staff struggling to cope and suffering from stress.

EIS-Fela union branch secretary Eileen explained, “Many lecturers sacrifice their home and family time to ensure the success of their students. But it is inevitable that they can’t devote the same time to dealing with the students’ concerns as they feel they need.”

One Glasgow college principal had the cheek to tell the Scottish parliament last month that the mergers had been “a success story for students, the sector and staff”.

For new college heads enjoying six-figure salaries, or former principals who looted college funds on their way out, it has undoubtedly been a success.

But workers have suffered pay insults year after year. The SNP promised a return to national bargaining over pay and has failed to deliver. Bosses’ group Colleges Scotland has dragged its heels. Individual maverick colleges have refused to take part.

Now bosses are imposing a 1 percent pay deal. They claim there’s no money available. But colleges squirreled away millions into Arm’s Length Trusts before they came back under public control.

Millions more are held in historic surpluses and the Scottish government education budget is underspent. It is a lie that they cannot afford the £15 million to settle the lecturers’ claim.

“We have been misled,” Eileen argued. “After 15 months of negotiations they weren’t willing to bargain, and instead threaten to impose a settlement.

“We were promised national bargaining. What they have set up is neither national nor bargaining!”

Lecturers are right to strike. Their strategy of escalating to two days next week and to follow this with three-day strikes every week deserves huge support.

Trade union leaders have spoken about mobilising the full force of the movement to defend trade union rights when the Trade Union Bill comes into force.

What’s different about the bosses and SNP imposing this pay deal?

Union leaders must maximise solidarity and throw their weight behind the lecturers.

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