Theresa May has only been Prime Minister for a matter of weeks, but already the education system is under sustained attack from her government – some of which is new, whilst some is a tragic continuation of the failed policies pushed by her predecessor.
This weekend the Prime Minister revealed that she’s planning to allow new Grammar Schools – a policy designed to woo swing voters but which will only serve to further damage our underfunded education system. They will be sold as giving a leg up to working class kids, but the evidence suggests that instead they segregate schooling by class – putting the greatest opportunities in the hands of the few.
Ironically, the policy will be implemented by Justine Greening – who’s appointment was greeted with much fanfare as she is the first Comprehensive educated Education Secretary.
Meanwhile in Higher Education, our members find themselves on the brink of strike action thanks to a miserly pay offer of just 1.1% – whilst Vice Chancellors have in recent years received a pay bump of more than five times that. Undoubtedly Universities will argue that they don’t receive enough money from the government – and they’d be right to say that – but that’s simply no excuse for a pay settlement that leaves some in the HE sector earning less than the Living Wage.
And in Derbyshire, school support staff have lost 25% of their pay – up to £400 per month. As the council seeks to switch these vital education workers to term-time contracts (as is also threatened in Durham) they face a massive loss in income, which threatens to push some to the financial precipice. Those hit are mostly teaching assistants caring for our children, yet they face real uncertainty and the prospect of financial ruin.
UNISON stands with school support staff under attack, and our members in Higher Education who deserve a better deal. Both of these potential disputes could easily have been avoided by employers taking a more reasonable approach. Yet if we want an education system that truly helps all of us achieve our potential, then we need an education system that values those who work within it. That means decent pay and decent working conditions.
If this Tory government really cared about making our country fairer and more prosperous then decent pay for education workers would be one of their top priorities. Instead, rehashed and reheated elitism is the order of the day.