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Young people are being “diverted onto the dirt track of low-pay, zero-hours and dead-end jobs” as a result of the Coalition Government’s “narrow academic and elitist” education reforms, the new President of the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union in the UK, has said.
In his Presidential Address to the NASUWT’s Annual Conference in Cardiff, NASUWT President Graham Dawson said that children and young people are being denied access to a wide range of education opportunities and a curriculum which supports them to make the most of their skills and talents as schools come under pressure to “abandon the arts, PE, music and other non-core subjects to concentrate on those subjects deemed acceptable by this Government of Gradgrinds”.
Mr Dawson, a special and additional needs teacher from Tyneside, told the Conference that “education is more than five A to Cs. Education leads to worlds of wonder and opportunity. Not a narrow corridor, confining and restricting children. It is imperative to educate the whole child. It is time that those in charge of Government policy, and some of our school leaders, also realised this as well.”
Mr Dawson hit out at the economic and social barriers erected under the current Coalition Government which are restricting the life chances of too many children and young people, citing the trebling of university tuition fees, the undermining of vocational learning, the growth of unpaid internships and rising youth unemployment.
“No country can afford the waste and human cost of casting many of its young people aside with such casual abandon”, Mr Dawson told conference representatives. “As guardians of the profession, we must speak up for all those children in our country with no voice, no hope and no future.”
Mr Dawson condemned rising levels of child poverty, highlighting that the number of families living in B&B accommodation has doubled in the last three years.
He pointed out that despite the toll which this is taking on children’s wellbeing, Government spending on children’s mental health services has fallen by 6% since the Coalition came to office, with the result that teachers and schools are being left to pick up the pieces of the impact of family breakdown, poverty and deprivation on pupils.
He said: “In our schools, we take this and create wonderful caring environments, where boundaries are set, where our young people are looked after, listened to, treated with respect and given the opportunity to thrive within a safe and loving community.
“Where caring and committed adults dedicate their working lives to the social, emotional and educational development of the next generation. For we are adults that will not let them down.”
Schools’ ability to effectively support children and young people is being undermined by the privatisation of the education service and the increasing pressure from the accountability system, Mr Dawson told the Conference.
The loosening of democratic control by the Government and a lack of accountability has led to the giving away of schools built and paid for by taxpayers to private firms, the exploitation of unqualified staff and new entrants to the profession, and attacks on teachers’ professionalism and working conditions, Mr Dawson argued.
He said: “These abuses stem from the loosening of democratic control and a lack of accountability. The present system of school governance fails to provide effective scrutiny and strategic direction. Our local authorities have been holed below the waterline, most of the crew thrown overboard, those remaining trying to do the job of ten people, desperate to keep the ship afloat. In academies, the Secretary of State is responsible for thousands of schools.
“Education is not a business, not an opportunity to line your pockets with public money, not an investment opportunity.
“Education is a vital public service. A service to the public, a service to the country, a service to the future.”