SCHOOLS alone cannot solve the problems of “poverty, poor housing, neglect and abuse”, Banbury Academy’s head of special needs said as he became president of the NASUWT teaching union.

Geoff Branner, right, who is taking a sabbatical for the year he is president, gave his maiden speech to the union’s annual conference in Birmingham on Friday and said education had a moral duty to tackle inequality and give every child a decent start in life.

But he questioned whether education by itself can master the “malign effects” of problems in society.

Mr Branner, who lives in Witney, said: “Public education is not just about developing an individual’s capacity to earn, it has a moral objective as well – to tackle inequality.

“Public education must be about more than providing for the most able – it must be about all.” But he added: “Whether education alone can overcome the malign effects of poverty, poor housing, neglect and abuse in all its forms is questionable.

“We, as individual teachers, can do little to control or ameliorate such factors, though I know that many of us do what we can – bringing in food, spare clothing and other resources to give practical help to those children in greatest need.

“But the Government could and should do more, instead of giving priority to a policy of tax breaks for the immeasurably wealthy.”

Mr Branner said teacher morale has been falling since 2010, adding that he has heard of staff “afraid to take risks, afraid to exercise their judgment in case it exposes them to criticism”.

  • See the Oxford Mail tomorrow (Tuesday) for a full interview with Mr Branner