The NASUWT is working with partners in the trade union and wider campaigning movement to press the Coalition Government to re-think these policies which are harming the life chances of young people and which will hamper the country’s financial, cultural and social development for years to come.
Teachers are growing increasingly angry and worried for the future of their students as a result of the Coalition Government’s reforms.
This is why NASUWT members have been in continuous industrial action short of strike action in furtherance of our trade dispute with the Coalition Government. This is in defence of high-quality terms and conditions for teachers which are critical to ensuring high standards for children and young people.
Through their action, members of the NASUWT have been standing up for standards, standing up for the provision of an education system which is available to all and which supports all young people to make the most of their skills and talents.
Cost of education
The move to increase tuition fees is part of a wider growth in the cost of education which we are experiencing in England.
The Government has removed the Education Maintenance Allowance, a grant which enabled young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds to participate in further education after the age of 16. This money was often spent on essentials such as course materials and travel to college. Without this funding, many young people in England have had to drop out of education.
The result has been a spike in the number of young people not in education, training or employment (NEET). One in six young people aged between 16 and 24 is now NEET in England.
Emerging research evidence compiled by the NASUWT, which examines the extent of parents’ financial support for children’s education, indicates that access to quality education is increasingly based on parents’ ability to pay. It is the case, as one politician recently observed, that children can have the best education their parents can afford. Under the Coalition Government, it seems we are moving increasingly towards a system of education where participation and access to the highest quality learning depends on an ability to pay.
Whilst much more needed to be done to ensure equality of access to universities, progress was made and more people were able to reap the economic rewards and life opportunities which higher level education opens up. Society, also, benefitted from increased participation in higher education.
However, since 2010, these achievements have been put at risk by decisions of the UK Coalition Government. These include cuts to funding for universities, ending access to financial support for students aged 16-19, and, perhaps most damningly, trebling the maximum amount universities can charge students for tuition to £9,000 a year.
Students are now facing the daunting prospect of massive debt after they graduate, with many expecting a debt burden of around £40,000 when they leave university. This is already impacting on the numbers of young people wanting a place a university. The massive hike in university tuition fees and the certainty of massive student debt are ensuring that higher education once again becomes the preserve of the already advantaged.
Recent research published by the independent Commission on Fees backs up the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers’ (NASUWT) fears that the fee increase will result in many young people from low and middle-income backgrounds being shut out of higher education. Figures from the Commission show that overall application numbers in England this year are down 8.8 per cent compared with two years ago while applications from 18 and 19-year-olds are down by around 7 per cent.
In Scotland, where students from Scotland attending Scottish universities do not pay fees, the picture on participation is very different.
Additionally, emerging evidence suggests that many young people who have decided to attend university have been forced to radically amend their choice of course or institution because of the fear of running up huge debts. And, the teaching profession has also been affected; a substantial 30 per cent decline in the number of applications for Initial Teacher Training courses in England occurred for the first time for decades. At a time of a recession, this decrease is profoundly disturbing.
Students are now facing a complicated and unstable university funding system which is being exacerbated by high unemployment and a lack of alternative options for training and skills development.
Young people are facing the option of a lifetime of debt or throwing themselves into the uncertainties of the employment market where jobs are scarce and unpaid internships increasingly the norm.