Kevin Courtney, NUT general secretary: ‘We want to put pressure on every candidate … to pledge to oppose school cuts in their constituency and elsewhere.’ Photograph: Getty
Teaching unions say they will carry the fight against budget cuts affecting schools directly to parents and voters, with the National Union of Teachers’ general secretary vowing to make education funding a key election issue.
Kevin Courtney told the union’s annual conference the snap election was an opportunity to challenge the funding shortages in England.
“In the run-up to this election, parents must demand of all politicians: will they invest in our country, will they invest in our children?” he told delegates in Cardiff.
“I don’t believe there’s a parent anywhere in this country who voted for their child’s class size to go up, or voted for their child to lose the opportunity to do art or dance or music.
“So parents must now demand clarity from candidates seeking office. We want to put pressure on every candidate in every constituency to pledge to oppose school cuts in their constituency and elsewhere.
“We can reach parents with this and we can make a difference in the general election.”
Courtney, in his first union address since his election as general secretary, demanded that the government publish its consultation on the controversial national funding formula planned for schools in England.
“It would be an absolute disgrace if they did not publish their response to this before the general election. Parents need to know what they are voting for, they need to know what the parties are saying about the funding of their children’s schools,” he said.
But if the Conservative party attempted to appease unhappy MPs “by taking more money from London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, then I’m saying to Theresa May: expect industrial action from this union, and expect it soon”, he added.
Courtney accused the Tories of breaking their previous election manifesto pledge on school funding. “Because that Conservative manifesto promise was broken, across the country we’re seeing class sizes going up, we are seeing arts, dance, drama, music taken off the curriculum. We’re seeing thousands of teaching assistants made redundant or not replaced,” he said.
The NUT’s call on funding was joined by other unions, including those representing headteachers.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Our top message is that there is insufficient funding in the education system. We call on all political parties to commit to investing in education as part of a long-term economic plan.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said his union would also campaign over the school funding cuts. “There are crises, like teacher recruitment and the £3bn of cuts the government expects schools to make, that should not be forgotten during the election campaign,” he said.
“We will lobby every party to make sure that their policies on education are based on evidence and are at the forefront of their campaigns.”
The NUT had previously passed a motion rejecting the government’s plans to revive selective schools in England.
“This union is clear. Justine Greening and Theresa May’s ‘grammar schools for everyone’ is just an oxymoron,” Courtney said. “We believe Theresa May has been very nervous of using a legislative route. She has no electoral mandate for it but she is now seeking one. So this debate is now very public.”