A teacher explains the toll the cost of living crisis is having on our children’s education – and why the only answer is to strike for something better.

Two pupils work through a textbook with their teacher in a school in Hexham, Northumberland. (SolStock / Getty Images)

I’ve worked as an English teacher at a second-ary school in London for the past eighteen years. The job has changed immensely in that time. The workload has increased year on year. Schools are responding to pressure from Ofsted and an accountability agenda, which, in practice, means asking educators to do bureaucratic tasks, taking them away from the classroom.

Funding is in a horrendous place at the moment. Schools can’t afford their electricity and gas bills, which in some cases are going up by 400 percent. They’re cutting corners everywhere they can. Added to that, we’re facing a real recruitment and retention problem. In London, one in three teachers quit the profession within five years. When you’ve got such a highly pressurised environment, people inevitably experience burnout. There’s no dedicated government budget for recruiting.

The reality in schools today is that non-core subjects are not being taught. In my own school, for instance, a subject like business studies is no longer offered. Subjects are taken off the curriculum because there’s not enough money to employ staff members. Students are experiencing a very narrow curriculum, and schools are more and more focused on delivering exams. The result of this is simple: our children are not getting a well-rounded education.

Class sizes are getting bigger every year. One of my reps was telling me about a collapsed class, where they’ve got two groups in one class: 45 students being taught by one teacher. That’s a 50 percent increase from a typical class of 30, all because they can’t afford an extra teacher. Teachers are being forced to come into work when they’re ill, because there’s no one to cover them.

You’re starting earlier and going home later, working weekends and way into the night. Support staff tend to be conscientious and selfless, that’s why they’re in this profession. But there’s a point where the wages are so poor that you’re thinking, why am I working 12-hour days? Wouldn’t I be better off in the private sector? The cost-of-living crisis is another reason educators are leaving the profession in droves. We’ve got support staff and teachers using foodbanks.

I’ve heard colleagues talk about having to bring in food for children. We’re the ones that are there for our students, we’re fighting for their education. But this government is in no way interested in providing the quality that kids deserve. If there was a commitment, they wouldn’t be giving us paltry pay rises in underfunded schools. You’ve even got headteachers talking about strike action now. They’re worried about how they’re going to run their schools.

We have been pushed to the brink. There’s a lot of anger among educators on behalf of the children we teach. That was reflected in our national preliminary ballot. We got 62 percent turnout with an 86 percent yes vote. Increasing numbers of teachers are seeing that they will only win better pay and conditions through strike action.

It’s vital in this dispute that people see this isn’t just about pay; it’s about the future of education. The government is not just letting teachers down; it’s robbing young people of their futures. This is about defending the education system we’re all so passionate about. We’re in complete solidarity with sister unions across education. The system is broken, and we have no choice but to fight for it.

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