The nation has been on tenterhooks this week as the media continues to announce the swift and staggering cuts being made to public spending by the coalition Government.
The effect is numbing. Budget cut details are coming so hard and fast that it is almost impossible to keep up. And now the latest news surrounds potential cuts to the well-guarded NHS budget, which faces pressure from Tory MPs who ask why other departments are facing reductions of up to 40 per cent, whilst the NHS remains untouchable. I don’t need to enter into an argument about exactly why the NHS is an exceptional entity, and should be safe-guarded with such special immunity.
But this is not to say that other departments don’t have an extremely valuable part to play in a progressive society. Education, education, education has been the political hot potato this week. The news that schools would face a £1 billion cut and that the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) scheme would be axed was met by leading Tories with predictable references to Labour’s old ways of “needless bureaucracy”.
Whilst drawing comparisons between BSF’s efficacy in schools with building an airport in Hong Kong may possess rhetorical spark, the reality, as always, is startlingly different – and forces great fissures into the arguments made in cabinet.
Here in Yorkshire, some of the poorest communities in Britain still exist (perhaps not within the affluent idyll of York, but certainly just 30 miles down the road in Doncaster, for example). I have spent the last week on the phone to a number of schools in South and West Yorkshire (not out of choice, just to let you know – my summer break hasn’t reached that low point just yet) to gauge their reaction to the axe.
From what I have seen in most of the national press, I was expecting some signs of disappointment and an overall consensus that the money really didn’t help that much. I anticipated a response along the lines of, “the school buildings needed a few licks of paint here and there, but we’re mostly all fine and dandy, thank you very much.”
Not so. Liz Churton, the Headteacher of Knottingley High School, has accused the scheme’s stoppage of “taking the heart out of the community” as her school is to be left in “complete disrepair”. Paul Frazer, the Headteacher of Airedale High School, cited how the funds were going to be used “to transform the way we deliver education” in his “ageing and deteriorating” Wakefield school.
Education is not just about a school and it students. Education is also about a community and its residents, and ultimately England as a whole led by a Government that respects all of its citizens.
Depriving the most needy schools of a financial safety net used to improve the physical outlook of a building affects the self-esteem of students and teachers alike, in addition to preventing spaces for academic, athletic and cultural flourishment, such as science labs, as well as sports and performing arts centres. Whilst this axe may, on the surface, seem like a pragmatic move in light of the current economic crisis, the social repercussions will reverberate through communities across the country.
So in actuality the question is: are we really a ‘progressive’ society, or just merely ‘progressing’? Who are we to judge superlative progress? The evidence in my view stands as showing only one thing: that in fact, we are a society regressing.
This can only be compounded by the news today that the Government plans to give teachers more power to be tougher on kids in classrooms or, as the Daily Express puts it so astutely, as always: “At last… teachers can use force on yob pupils again.” Sigh.