One way to understand whether a society is progressing or regressing is to look at how it treats education. Does this society see knowledge as important? Does it put an emphasis on passing on the understanding we have gained of science, literature, art, and philosophy?
If we cannot ensure high quality education we can be certain that society will regress. Upon taking even a surface level glance at our education system, it is easy to see the stage that capitalism finds itself: crisis and regression.
Cuts, cuts, and more cuts
The last 12 years have been marked by major cuts to essential services and a deep drop in the standard of living. The education sector has been hit hard by these attacks, with a 9% real-terms fall in school spending and a 14% fall in college spending per student in the last decade.
6th formers at school, have seen their funding cut by 28% between 2010 and 2019. The IFS has reported that spending on education across the UK fell by £10 billion during this time and this led to the share of national income devoted to education going down from 5% in 2007 to 4.4% in 2019.
As ever, these cuts have affected the most deprived schools and students the most. The most deprived 20% of secondary schools saw a 14% fall in spending per pupil between 2009 and 2019. Whereas, the least deprived 20% saw a drop of only 9% per pupil at the same time. As in the rest of society, inequality is worsened by austerity.
The essence of capitalism
The Conservative government will have you believe that they take education seriously and are funding it more than ever before. However, students or staff in schools can see that things are not getting better but worse.
Teachers are being stretched thinner, with far fewer resources. This is creating high-pressure environments in schools, in which neither students nor staff feel able to work. Why are there no resources? This is not simply due to callousness or lack of care from the Conservatives. (Although as individuals, they may be callous!). The crumbling education system must be understood in the wider context of all public services under capitalism.
Even a government that cared deeply about public education would be incapable of providing what was necessary. Today, capitalism is in its deepest ever crisis. Marx explained in the Communist Manifesto, capitalism ‘must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.’ This means that the capitalist system, which is run on the basis of profit, provides nothing for free.
Since the 1980s, there has been a concerted effort to sell off publicly owned assets. Water, gas and electricity, communications, and mail have all been subjected to this. The education sector is certainly no exception. They have opened it up to the ravages of the market.
The clearest attack on education was the bringing in of student fees in 1998 when Tony Blair was in power. This was continued by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition in 2011, tripling the fees to £9,000. The ongoing marketisation of education is attacking pensions, working conditions, learning conditions, and more. In a period of capitalist crisis such as today, we see attacks ramped up. The ruling class is trying to make the working class pay its way out.
The working class does not give up the gains it has won easily. Those working in education, as well as students, have been in an almost constant battle for better working and learning conditions over the last few years.
The NEU (National Education Union), UCU (University and College Union) and students have all shown willingness for supporting or taking part in strike action. In the last period, we have seen strikes by teaching staff in universities, rent strikes by students, mass walkouts in secondary schools, and more. This fight cannot be maintained on the basis of winning each battle independently. We must see this for what it is: class war. We, therefore, support the coordination of all these struggles. Students and workers must come together for a coordinated fightback against capitalism.
Education is a cornerstone of progress, yet in a system where anything and everything is opened up to capitalism, education will be broken into pieces and sold to the highest bidder.
To protect education we must fight for socialism, a system where the economy is run on the basis of need, not profit. That way, we could democratically decide and allocate where to put resources.