According to reports from teachers in Wales, a generation of children and teenagers are being forced to learn in ‘deplorable conditions’. This demonstrates the real life effects of cuts to education and school building programs since 2010 in the UK.

While the Welsh government claims that it will invest up to £2bn in schools over the next decade, currently students are learning in conditions described as ‘Dickensian’ by teaching professionals. Furthermore, the £2bn proposed investment has been rightly criticised far too little money to make any meaningful difference, with some teachers and lecturers calling for a figure closer to £3bn.

The degradation in school buildings is not limited to Wales. 35% of head-teachers surveyed in England during 2015 felt that their schools were absolutely not fit for purpose, with the figure rising to 40% in some areas in the south of England. Over half of the 1000+ heads surveyed said that they would like to build more classrooms since the primary and secondary schools that they manage are becoming overcrowded.

These figures have tangible impacts on the education of pupils at these schools. Degrading and ramshackle school facilities have been linked to high rates of absenteeism in New York public schools, where students attending schools with run-down buildings attended fewer days of school on average and achieved lower grades in standardised tests.

This is not even the most severe effect of deteriorating school buildings. At one school in Wales teachers complained of damp and mould which had spread through nearly all of the classrooms. These unsanitary conditions put children and their teachers at a high risk of lung diseases, something that is particularly the case for the younger years. One girls’ school in England reported even worse learning conditions: not only were many parts of the school building completely deprived of electricity but leaks in the ancient pipe and boiler system left students in danger from asbestos. At the same school, students were so cold that they had to attend lessons in outdoor coats. Not only are these conditions making it difficult to learn, but they pose a serious risk to the health of students.

The chronic failure to invest in building new primary and secondary schools is linked to the scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future plan which was dropped almost immediately after the 2010 general election. This plan would have seen the rebuilding or refurbishment of almost every secondary school in the country, but instead only 10% of schools in need of refurbishing expect any funding from central government. Cuts to local government are also exacerbating the problem.

The conditions of schools in the developed, ‘first world’ countries such as Britain and the USA are absolutely shocking for people who have become used to the expectation that children have the right to a safe and thorough education. But this is no different from the norm. In Britain, a country where workers’ rights, health care, housing and welfare are being slowly but surely reduced to pre-war standards, is it any surprise that many school students are learning in conditions described by one teacher as ‘Victorian’? This is not a local problem. Furthermore, it is not even a specifically British problem, but one that plagues education internationally.  Conditions in schools across the globe are worsening. Reports from public schools in Detroit highlight this crisis. Class sizes have reached up to 50 in some schools due to an endemic lack of funding, while teachers’ descriptions of mould, mildew and damp, exposed wires and flooded buildings read like a report from the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Yet this disaster is anything but natural. Internationally, cuts to public services, including severe education cuts, have been rolled out as a solution to global economic crisis. The crumbling buildings of educational establishments are a symptom of a much greater collapse, the collapse of world capitalism. The crisis of 2008 has stripped the public purse of the funding which once subsidised the existence of the working class while the bosses profited from their labour. State bankruptcy has forced governments to follow a policy of austerity, attacking all of the concessions which were won by the class struggle over the last 150 years, including access to education. Allowing schools to literally fall into disrepair is  necessary financially to maintain capitalism after 2008, creating a global race to the 1800s in terms of living conditions.

Under capitalism, there is no alternative but to allow schools to fall apart. Vicious cuts are the only way that the ruling classes can see to carry the state through the crisis. But there is a socialist alternative. There is enough wealth to repair every school building in the country – but it is in the hands of the capitalists! This wealth – £800bn of it in money capital alone – is lying completely dormant in the bank accounts of the richest companies. But, given the crisis, the massive investment in society that this wealth could be used for would not make any profit and so could never occur under capitalism.

There is immense wealth in society, all produced by the working class. Yet the workers are forced to send their children to schools that are falling to pieces. This is not only an example of not only the injustice of capitalism, but of its total lack of responsibility. This system is unfit to rule; the only way forward is socialism!

by Lizzie Cassidy, Hills Road Sixth Form College Marxist Society

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