Unity on the protest lines

28th April 1995 at 01:00
I thought we had won all the arguments but lost the fight. On the basis of the local government spending limits, our local education authority had been warned by the county treasurer to expect a cut of Pounds 10 million in the education budget and was planning accordingly: 4 per cent cuts in schools' budgets leading to many job losses and increasing class sizes. Schools still trying to come to terms with the effects of last year's cuts were devastated.

As an individual, chair of governors and secretary of our county association, I joined in the campaign against the cuts. We wrote to the newspapers, spoke on local radio and dispatched letters and faxes to John Major, Kenneth Clarke, the director of education and local councillors. We encouraged parents to lobby their MPs and councillors. We refuted nonsensical claims about schools' bulging bank balances and mustered statistics about diminishing resources, crumbling buildings, growing class sizes and threatened redundancies. We joined the picket outside County Hall as the councillors met to set the budget.

And we won! An alliance of Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors on our hung council produced proposals that kept the education budget virtually intact. After years of banging our heads against a wall of government intransigence, we suddenly found we were pushing an open door. The councillors agreed with us. Education was a priority. I am having great difficulty coming to terms with this concept in relation to politicians, but the only explanation I can think of is that their budget planning was based on what most people wanted and what the council thought was right.

Can we extend this principle to national government? A tall order but, if we start now and work together, we might do it. By "we" I mean, of course, governors and parents. Many counties are much worse off than mine this year, and we will all be squeezed again next year if the Government still believes that people want tax cuts more than a decent education system.

Education in my county won out this year at the expense of social services. We feel uncomfortable with the idea that we were, in effect, campaigning to shut down old peoples' homes. Next year, we don't just want a bigger share of the cake, we want more cake.

The attitude of the media to this year's protest has been very positive, largely because parents and governors have taken the lead. The press in general, you may have noticed, do not like teachers. Governors are seen as having no vested interest in the funding question. We speak for the children and, if we can get the parents to support us, we are a powerful force, if only in terms of numbers. Parents are voters, and if the Government believes there are votes in supporting education, as an election approaches, it will respond accordingly.

The National Governors' Council and county associations have an important role to play here. Through our networking system, we can catalogue the effects of cuts on schools. We can look at class sizes, the problems of meeting the special educational needs requirements with no extra funding, the stress on teachers of losing non-contact time and the pressures on governors trying to manage diminishing resources. We must alert parents to the threat to their children's future and recruit them to campaign vociferously and persistently.

It is remarkable, in view of the elaborate system of buck-passing invented by this government, how clear-sighted teachers, staff and parents are about who is actually responsible for diminishing school budgets. We need to build on this unity and keep the momentum of our protest going.

Then next year we might all be winners.

Joan Dalton is a governor in the East Midlands

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