14 June 2017
In the early hours of Friday morning, as the likelihood of Labour pulling off one of the bigger election shocks of recent decades began to sink in, I asked the following question on twitter:
“So, has the school cuts campaign cut through in this election?”
A resounding, and from many quarters, ecstatic, “yes” came back. “Of course it has, informed=empowered,” said one tweeter. Another said: “Quite big news in Tooting, lots of local school events. Tory candidate didn’t condemn cuts…he did not win!”
Dr Becky Allen, director of the think tank Education Datalab, responded: “In Sussex? Or my local Facebook feeds? Yes, it’s been huge and the individual heads have played their part alongside a brilliant website.”
Chris Cook, BBC Newsnight’s policy editor and former education correspondent at the Financial Times, offered the following answer: “The NUT have been huge winners. I *kept* meeting people who brought it up.”
The NUT’s Andrew Baisley said: “I think reason school funding campaign is winning because it’s heads, parents, teachers all organising and saying the same thing.”
Of course, identifying people’s reasons for voting for particular parties is tricky: no-one is able to get inside the heads of millions of individuals, most of them no doubt weighing many factors in coming to a decision.
However, it seems as if the campaign to raise awareness of the dire prospects facing schools’ finances was highly successful in feeding into a wider anti-austerity narrative which so spectacularly denied Theresa May the mandate she had sought.
A thumping Conservative win would have allowed, among other things, the party the chance to press on with public service spending increases which failed to keep pace with costs, on the argument that people had accepted this was necessary “in the national interest”.
The School Cuts website helped stop that win happening by allowing anyone to work out the impact of the spending plans of the government, before the election was called, on individual schools’ budgets. During the campaign, school-by-school calculations allowed comparisons between the parties’ funding offers in terms of the impact on each school’s future resources.
Having received a letter from the head of my daughter’s primary flagging up the scarcely-believable looming loss of several teachers, I can attest to the power of this warning. As of last Tuesday, the website had been viewed 4.5 million times.
I also attended a meeting at a school in south London in March which saw NUT leader Kevin Courtney join heads, teachers, parents and governors in speaking to a standing-room-only assembly hall. Replicated across the country, this spoke to the combined power of the unions, parents and governors in raising the issue.
The key question, of course, is what happens now. There have been very interesting predictions that the election result, with its embarrassing reverse for Mrs May, has sounded the death knell for austerity economics.
Alongside such forecasts from the Guardian’s Larry Elliott http://bit.ly/2sL8PBx and the New Statesman’s George Eaton http://bit.ly/2sezWH4 came more surprising acknowledgements from the Tory fold that squeezed public spending had indeed been a major problem on the doorstep.
Stephen Dorrell, John Major’s former health secretary, has reportedly said: “At a time when many families have seen no improvement in their living standards for more than a decade, and public services are grappling with rising demand and squeezed budgets, voters concluded that these priorities were simply perverse and refused to endorse them.”
Even Nick Timothy, Mrs May’s deposed former joint chief of staff, who once headed the publicly funded free schools pressure group the New Schools Network, said in his leaving statement that many people “are tired of austerity”.
The precise details as to how and if the Conservatives depart from austerity – if indeed they remain in power without needing to call another general election in the next few months – are of course, up in the air.
There must be a strong possibility that plans for a new national funding formula for schools will be abandoned or reshaped following the election result, as senior Tories were reported http://bit.ly/2pK9wfd during the election campaign to be calling on Mrs May to ditch it.
Whatever happens, it seems likely that this election result will have helped sustain the energy behind the school cuts campaign.
The NUT, ATL and NAHT have promised an intensification of campaigning activity if the Conservatives do not change tack on school spending plans which the Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated would result in a seven per cent reduction in per-pupil funding by 2022.
Many people with a stake in education will be hoping for more successes for this campaign in future months. The quality of our children’s education depends on it.