I’ve become involved in a local arm of a national campaign for fair funding in all schools. I sort of fell into it as I do. I was volunteered to write the text for a change.org petition and ended up posting it from my account. Next thing I knew, I was part of the team. At first, I wasn’t sure that I had the capacity to take this on but the more I learnt, the more angry I became and now I am so grateful that I am. At least, I am actually trying to do something.
What’s the worry, you might say? Well, here’s a little film that we made to explain a bit about it. You’ll see my very own Moo in there too. So essentially, the “ring fenced” education budgets of schools have had quiet little unsupported additional expenses forced onto them. Well run, inclusive, amazing schools, like Moo’s, are going to go into deficit for the first time ever and will never come out again. So this year, Moo’s school will be in its first deficit of £15,000. Not much, you might think. However, by 2020, in THREE years’ time, that deficit is forecast at £450,000 and growing! That’s the equivalent of 8 teachers. If you want to see what is going to happen to your school, just click here. This is not an exaggeration although I really wish it was.
We held a public meeting on Monday at one of the schools in my area. Both MPs, one Liberal and one Conservative, came and spoke as well as a headteacher from a primary, a headteacher from a secondary, Matt Dykes from the national parent-led campaign and a member of the NUT. Everyone, regardless of politics, agreed that education needs more funding. It was a very successful meeting in that we had set it up to inform parents of what is going on and around 300 parents turned up. One of whom wrote how they felt afterwards here.
In my Greater London area, it’s really expensive to live but we do not qualify for London weighting so our school is funded £4,700 per pupil whereas a school a few miles up the road might be funded £7,500 per pupil because it is central London. Nuts, right? However, I might add that the schools funded like that were failing before the additional funding they received kicked in and now, as a result of better funding, they are soaring. So what was the government’s answer to this? Take the money away from those schools and give it to rural schools who are struggling. So essentially, putting those schools that have worked so hard to raise their standards and need the extra funding to do that back at square one.
As I mentioned, my school receives £4,700 per pupil and funding cuts are about to come in. Now this is where I get really mad. If a school is only receiving £4,700 per pupil but has to find the first £6,000 for every SEN child in their school before they are entitled to additional funding from a Statement for SEN or an Education Health and Care Plan and budgets are shrinking, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that soon enough, inclusion is going to be too expensive for schools. In my school, that’s an additional £1,300 per child! That means that children with physical disabilities who need a carer on site but would otherwise thrive in a mainstream environment, won’t necessarily be able to go to school. Or kids who have learning disabilities but just need a little extra support to access the curriculum won’t be able to go to a mainstream school or will languish at the back of the class, not keeping up. I know this because I asked the question of two headteachers’ at our public meeting. Both schools represented had provisions for SEN kids. The primary head runs a school where 38% of the kids are on the SEN register. She said that she now has to look at a child’s case, considers what that child would need to succeed at her school and whether she will be able to afford the therapy and support that child will need. If not, she can’t accept the child. That is not her fault. That is the real effect of a lack of funding.
And it’s not just the SEN child that suffers. My daughter’s peers have gained so much from her inclusion since Reception. Not only have they had additional LSAs in their class but they have learnt from a young age that not everybody is the same. That different does not mean less and is not something to be derided, abused, discriminated against. They are more rounded individuals because they have learnt compassion and empathy from a very young age. Their generation is our future society. If mainstream schools can’t afford SEN kids, there will be more division, more discrimination because us, humans, are not anything if not predictable. What we don’t know, understand or are exposed to is unknown and fear of the unknown breeds prejudice. I don’t want my daughter to live in that kind of society. When we are in the age of celebrating the Paralympics as much as the Olympics, when disability access is something hard fought for, I don’t want society to go backwards. I don’t want future generations to miss out on being more rounded people. We need a more compassionate society and this is one of the easiest ways to build one.
So I am left feeling frustrated as hell. Not enough parents are getting involved. The government is very dismissive of teachers’ concerns. They say that they are over reacting but I know that they are not. They can say what they like but schools are at a tipping point. After five years, Moo’s school is no longer able to afford her two carers at all times. Next term, she goes down to one. There are schools where teachers are taking study materials home to photocopy them for students because the school can’t afford the paper. One of my fellow parents just donated a whole box of glue sticks to the school. And if we do nothing, there will be bigger classes, there will be reduced selection of subjects, there may even be shorter school weeks. I feel for those kids who aren’t the most academic but are phenomenal artists, actors or musicians because those will be the subjects that are cut first.
And who would be a teacher in this environment? Why are teachers so undervalued? They are the ones teaching our future doctors, scientists, lawyers, leaders. They must have the patience of a saint. I couldn’t do it. Why isn’t teaching a recognised, respected and well paid profession like being a doctor or lawyer is? It seems madness to me.
So if you read this and feel like you want to help, I beg you, please click here. Sign the petition, fill in the consultation before 22 March, write to your MP. The whole process might take an hour of your life and it means that, in five years’ time, you can look into any child’s eye and know that you did something, you didn’t sit back and let it happen. Let it be known that we demand a fairly funded education system where every child gets a good, appropriate education. They deserve it. At the end of the day, if you want a world class education system, then you have to pay for a world class education system, and, without it, how is our society meant to progress?