The Government’s education policy merges austerity with a deep hostility towards those working in schools and an indifference to those studying in them.
These qualities have shaped the incompetent policy-making that has dominated the last 13 years. The pandemic and its aftermath displayed this combination in disastrous technicolour, and the teacher recruitment and retention crisis provided further evidence of its effects. From this perspective, we should see the dramatic emergence of the RAAC scandal as a third, but probably not final, act.
What has long been known by unions, building experts, and civil servants has, over the last week, become a public scandal: schools told to close because they have been discovered to pose a risk to life; more than a hundred have been partially evacuated. These numbers will rise.
It’s not their schools that are crumbling. It’s not the Etons, the Harrows, the Winchesters – it is ours.
Keegan says she is taking a cautious approach. But cautious would have been to invest the £7 billion needed to maintain the school estate – the reality is they only spent a third of that.
If this Government had been cautious, they wouldn’t have cut Building Schools for the Future – a program slashed by Gove in the name of austerity.
Instead of caution, education was delivered chaos. Schools told to close days before opening after the summer. Heads put under pressure the night before school starts – told to complete surveys, by the DfE on Twitter.
The fact is the school estate has been allowed to decline in a deliberate act of calculated neglect.
And it’s not just RAAC – according to the National Audit Office 700,000 children every day are taught in schools in need of desperate repair; 90% of schools still contain asbestos, creating a level of risk well beyond what is acceptable to expose our children to.
Our profession and our children deserve better.
This Government needs to come clean on the scale of crisis. But more than that, we need a program of rebuilding. A starting point for politicians, should be to treat our children as they treat theirs.
They wouldn’t have their children taught online, in marquees, in Portacabins, for unspecified periods of time – and neither should we.