This week’s Spending Review served up cold comfort to educators and our nation’s children.
Along with headteachers, teachers, unions and parents, here at Can Can we campaigned long and hard to win Boris Johnson’s vaunted election promise of a £14 billion cash injection for schools, which, in one of those fiscal sleights of hand we’ve become used to, shrank to £7.1 billion the minute the figures were examined in detail.
Not enough to bring school funding back to 2010 levels. Not enough to find 1000s of children with SEND either an actual place at school or the support they need; not enough to help the dozens of schools that can’t afford to open for a full five days a week; not enough to stem the chronic shortages of teaching assistants or the oversized classes; not enough to help the many pupils with little access to enrichment subjects like the arts, music and sport. But that money was something – and very hard-won by campaigners to boot.
Then came a global pandemic, with all the additional costs that entails. Supply cover for all the teachers falling ill or self-isolating, provision of blended in-school and remote learning, Covid-proofing of schools, the list goes on… And that doesn’t begin to count the personal cost to heads and teachers who have been on the front line, working round the clock to educate our children, while exposing themselves to concentrated levels of the virus without the right to wear PPE.
And then came this week’s Spending Review. Branding experts won’t have missed Rishi Sunak’s marketing of himself as cool headed yet empathetic; a man who takes science and mask-wearing seriously; who cares about the country’s plight and can make the necessary nods to populism where necessary; a man with distinct leadership qualities, a clear, pragmatic attitude and a safe pair of hands to steer us through the worst recession in 300 years.
Yet despite the “I see you, I hear you, I feel your pain” packaging, schools, teachers and heads found themselves, yet again, distinctly unseen, unheard and fiscally unappreciated. There will be no money for schools already on their knees and unable to afford the extra price-tag of Covid. Instead there will be a pay freeze for teachers, who have worked doggedly and put themselves at such risk to keep schools open under the most pressurised conditions in living memory.
No amount of gloss can cover the fact that headteachers are still losing sleep over budgets, and a whole Covid generation of children is being failed by this preference for style over substance and political expediency.