Education: Funding Crisis or Structural Crisis?

Our education system is on its knees but will more money be enough to save it?

Teaching is being abandoned in droves. Each year more and more staff leave the profession for an easier career or early retirement. Less than half of secondary school teacher training placements for next year have been filled. Current training programs have a staggeringly low retention rate, creating a churn of underqualified, inexperienced graduates to make up staffing shortfalls. It’s easy to see why so few want to stay. Real-terms pay for teachers has dropped by 11-23%. The standard workday now extends long into each evening. Schooling is now synonymous with examining and ‘teaching to the test’ has changed from a criticism of schools to their sole function.

A decade of austerity has done considerable damage, an increase of funding to all of our failing public services is desperately needed. But would this alone be enough? The shocking cuts to school funding (up to 14% in some areas) are only made possible following the restructuring of education along the principles of the market. Every reform over the last 50 years has been to give schools more ‘autonomy’ while forcing them to conform to a narrower set of targets, where the only variable left is the intensity of labour. Keeping labour uniform and disciplined is a great way to keep costs down, and the twin threats of Ofsted and the exam league tables have been extremely effective at keeping teachers in line. The culture of competition between schools this creates forces each school to submit or fall behind. The corporatism of the academy chain, now imposed upon wide swathes of schools, is an inevitability: how could anyone hope to compete with these disciplinarian exam factories? Their concern is not to prepare their pupils for life, or communicate a passion and curiosity for learning, but meeting quotas for shareholders.

The great vision of Thatcher, fully realised by Blair, was for our state sectors to take on the logic of the assembly line. The current metric-driven taylorist approach allows the government to slash budgets whenever needed, safe in the knowledge that decades of reform has created a standardised system that, free from any other concerns, can simply increase the workload of its workers. By framing the issue only in terms of money, there is no possibility to attack the underlying political and economic choices that led to this crisis; these issues can only be solved by adopting a political perspective that demands not just more funding but a radical restructuring of education to actually meet the needs of its students and workers alike. Ultimately, the current education system is only a reflection of the capitalist mode of production. This fight will have to be part of a wider struggle about what kind of world we want.

Only an active movement, able to articulate its own demands and lead its own struggle, can succeed. Distant union bureaucrats, safe in their sinecures, have no interest in the fights needed to rescue the education system. Throughout every new government’s deskilling ‘reforms’, there has been little pushback; when schools were kept open during the pandemic and the death rate of teachers kept rising, no help came. And now, when the education system is on its last legs, when staff are relying on food banks and second jobs, when schools are facing an unprecedented decline of staff - the best the leadership can muster is a handful of isolated strike days, with their only stated goal being a modest salary increase. They’ve even exempted those that teach exam years, who often have the heaviest workloads and the greatest stress, in order to minimise disruption! Teaching strikes in Scotland and Wales have already ended with below inflation pay rises of 7% and 8% respectively as across the board what started as a huge strike wave is fizzling out, a series of compromises between a government unwilling to pay and union leaders unwilling to fight. For any strike to succeed it must be led by the workers themselves, organised across workplaces and able to freely discuss their concerns, put forward their own demands and keep up pressure against management instead of surrendering its autonomy to a middle-man, only interested in getting them back to work. Can you afford to wait for the next round of balloting?

Communist Workers’ Organisation
28 April 2023
Monday, May 8, 2023


“The first proposition that I advance and the most basic one is that there is nothing like neutral education. Education is a political act. It is impossible to analyse education without analysing the problem of power.” (Paulo Freire)

So, what does it mean for a strike to succeed here?

Something about this article bothers me. But I could be very wrong as I am on the outside. I find it hard to see the educational staff as proletarian even if they share many features. Are they that different to cops, prison officers, social workers, psychologists...I find it hard to see them like factory workers. I think some maybe very aware of the nature of the system and like other workers are there for one reason only, the money. But the experienced teachers are dragging in a lot more money than the shit jobs pay. My daughter is 32 and on just under £40 k a year. So paying these people a lot of money to sell the system to kids who are being turned into fodder for the system seems to me to be problematic. I am not rejecting teachers as revolutionaries, but I think it has to be seen in terms not of “rescuing the education system”. That system is beyond rescue. I don’t think it is a case of “ ultimately” but in the here and now. There is no radical restructuring to be had here, the system is designed for a purpose and there is no other end it can serve. As I say, I am not on the inside, but to me it is just more of the same...socialism is the only way out, the rest is just ever worse no matter how it is rejigged. Maybe a new government could substantially improve the lot of the teaching professionals, but that is not helping the working class who are forced through the process. Though even this is doubtful. I cannot help but think that those who have “turned on” to a correct evaluation of the state’s educational process have “dropped out”, given it up as an insoluble problem, it’s a dubious way to make coin at best. Correct me if you think I am talking shite.