Only under a Tory government could cold classrooms and empty bookshelves be normalised – and yet schools are facing an 8% real-terms cut by 2019-20.
Less than six miles from Downing Street and the office Theresa May is seeking to return to, primary school children have to clean their own classrooms. This week it was reported that pupils in the London borough of Wandsworth are now vacuuming at the end of the day because their school is so underfunded that it can’t afford to replace its cleaner, a story that illustrates not only the horror of today’s austerity but is a warning sign for the future. While the NHS takes the strain and local services crumble, schools are the next public service to be gutted.
The National Audit Office calculates that by 2019-20, the education system will face cuts of 8% in real terms. That amounts to about £3bn in England – or the equivalent of £20,000 per pupil during their time in the classroom. Put that together with the new funding formula, which will see 9,000 schools face vast additional budget cuts, and secondary schools in England alone are heading for the steepest cuts to funding since the 1970s.
Last month, I asked Guardian readers to get in touch with their experiences of education cuts. The response was staggering: teachers, parents, governors, grandparents and headteachers describing a school system on its knees. “No textbooks … kids have to buy them,” wrote one teacher in High Wycombe. “School is falling to bits … radiators fitted when school was built (1950s) so in winter have recorded 8C in class.” One teacher in Newport said her class now has “no books or lined paper”; they’re asking parents to set up “voluntary direct debits” as emergency funding.
From Norfolk to London, teachers spoke of dire staff shortages – “we’re down from 60 to 15 teaching staff over the past five years,” one teacher in Weymouth told me – resulting in 40 kids in a classroom, untrained tutors brought in to teach maths, or entire subjects being “wiped out”. With no money to pay them, support staff are simply phased out – “the ones that help the children who are behind catch up”, as one parent in Leeds painfully puts it.