Union leader offers perfect response to Education Secretary’s statement on RAAC scandal

"Under their watch we’ve seen child poverty rocket, teacher pay plummet, workload go up and now schools are falling down"

The leader of the UK’s largest education union has provided a perfect response to the government’s handling of the school buildings crisis which has forced schools in the UK to close before term begins.

In an interview with Sky News, Daniel Kebede, the new general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), laid out why the government has failed to handle the crisis, both now and over previous years.

Asked to respond to a statement made by Gillian Keegan last night when she said the government had been taking ‘an extremely cautious approach’ to the RAAC concrete crisis, Kebede explained why ‘cautious’ was far from the word he would use.

“Cautious would have been to have invested in the school capital funding in the first place,” started Kebede.

“Cautious would have been not to have scrapped building schools for the future. Cautious would have been to invest the £7 billion a year that the office for government property believes is needed to maintain the school estate, in fact the government have only been investing a third of that.

“Cautious is not the approach I believe the government has taken. Hence we’re in this eleventh-hour crisis trying to ensure there are mitigations in place for crumbling schools.”

Rishi Sunak halved the budget for repairing dangerous schools when he was chancellor in 2021, with a former top civil servant coming out to blame the Prime Minister’s previous cuts as the reason for the current building scandal.

Whilst the Education Secretary Gillian Keegan authorising a £34 million revamp of her offices in April 2023.

Kebede offered an impassioned response to the suggestion by the Sky News presenter that unions had been preoccupied by teachers’ pay and spending per pupil, which meant the issue of concrete in schools was ‘seen as more of a longer term issue rather than the shorter term issue it’s proven to be?’

“We’ve seen teachers’ pay decline by over 23% in a decade, per pupil funding is below 2010 levels, this is the final piece in the austerity jigsaw,” said Kebede.

“Schools quite literally crumbling around children, many still containing asbestos, creating a level of risk that is far beyond what is acceptable to expose our children to.”

Though not a Labour affiliated union, the general secretary pointed out how underfunding the education system is a political choice, stating that the last Labour government spent over 5% of GDP on education, whilst this government is spending 4.19% on education, a £20 billion shortfall.

Gillian Keegan has faced further criticism after interview footage emerged showing her firing expletives off camera stating, “Does anyone ever say: ‘You know what you’ve done a f**king good job.”

Asked to comment on Keegan’s rant, Kebede stated: “I can appreciate it’s been a very difficult few days for Gillian Keegan.”

But he went on: “Credit for their handling of this crisis is something I don’t feel they deserve.”

“This government’s handling of education has been appalling. Under their watch we’ve seen child poverty rocket, teacher pay plummet, workload go up, and now schools are falling down.”

(Image credit: Sky News / YouTube)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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