Hundreds of children, parents and teachers descended on parliament today to protest at Michael Gove’s slashing of more than 700 school rebuilding projects.
The teaching unions called the protest, which was backed by the Ucatt construction union, and the Anti Academies Alliance.
People came from towns and cities across England to join the demonstration. They brought horror stories of what the cuts mean for them.
A group of support staff, parents and children travelled to the protest from Manor Foundation school in Sandwell, West Midlands. “You go into reception and the first thing you see is a bucket to catch the rain that leaks in,” said Josie, a support worker at the school.
“The windows don’t open in a lot of the classrooms. We have asbestos. The heating is unreliable and the toilets don’t flush.”
Cara, another support worker at the school, added, “We’re not asking for luxuries—we just want the basics. We just want windows that don’t leak and walls that aren’t falling down.”
James Porter is a secondary school teacher at another school in Sandwell. “I’m from a school that will still get its rebuild,” he told Socialist Worker. “But other schools won’t and it means that children won’t get the same quality of education.
“The cancelling of rebuilding will have a negative and divisive impact in the whole area.”
Hugues has just finished his first year of teaching in a secondary school in Knottingley, West Yorkshire.
“The classroom I teach in is damp and feels fairly derelict,” he told Socialist Worker.
“We were looking forward to our rebuild and it felt like we had a sense of purpose. Now that’s not there anymore.”
People had many other grievances about how government policy is impacting on education.
Jasmine is a secondary school student in Lambeth, south London. She joined the protest with a group of other students and teachers from her school. “At our school they’re getting rid of a lot of teachers and will replace them with student teachers,” she told Socialist Worker.
“We’re doing our GCSEs. We want to keep the teachers who know us and who are experienced. It’s unfair.”
Sue Newbold, a support worker in a school in Leicester and Unison union member, said that the government should “scrap academies and rebuild the schools that are falling to pieces instead.”
The protest took place as the second reading of the government’s academies bill was going through parliament.
Trade unionists, parents and teachers spoke to a packed rally in Westminster Central Hall before marching to parliament to lobby MPs.
Hundreds cram into overflowing rally to Save Our Schools
The most powerful speeches at the rally came from parents.
Lynn Stables, a parent in Nottinghamshire, told a shocking tale of the state of her son’s school. She said the head teacher had shown her around the school to areas “I wouldn’t normally have seen.”
“One of the big buildings has concrete cancer,” she said. “In a few years it will fall down or have to be pulled down.
“The main building has a row of classrooms at the front and one small concrete stairwell for all of them. The stairs are crumbling. There’s no corridor—so to get to the classroom at the end you have to walk through all the others.
“I dread to think what could happen in the event of a fire or other emergency. There’s no lift, so disabled children can’t access the classrooms. If someone had an accident up there it would be hard to access them.”
Lynn also spoke of a nearby school where “urine and waste leaks from an upstairs toilet into a classroom below—and teachers are still expected to teach there.”
She said she was shocked that schools could be so dilapidated.
Julie Morgan, a parent from Tamworth in Staffordshire, spoke about her campaign to stop academies in the town. She pointed to the way that the rebuilding cuts have hit community schools harder than academies.
“Our children have become political pawns,” she told the rally. “Tamworth was meant to have £100 million under Building Schools for the Future, but there were strings attached.
“They included an academy, a school closure and the merging of all our sixth form provision into one sixth form under the control of the academy.
“We’re proud of our community schools and wanted to retain them. We campaigned to save them and we won.
“So imagine our dismay when our BSF money was pulled—but we learned that the money for the academy, £65 million, was still there.”
The rally applauded Julie when she condemned the cuts as “an ideological decision to break up state education.”
She summed up the situation facing thousands of children in Britain: “How would you feel watching a shiny new academy being built next to your dilapidated school on land that used to be your playing field?”
Gordon Phillips, a headteacher at a special school in Sandwell, told the rally how rebuilding cuts would hit vulnerable children. “The money would have provided bespoke communication aids for students who can’t speak very many words,” he said.
“Ministers are where they are today because of education—now they’re taking it away from others.”
General secretary of the TUC, Brendan Barber, said he was “proud to bring support from the TUC” to the meeting.
“There is an alternative future—where public service workers and users are not made to pick up the tab for the bankers’ crisis,” he said, to loud applause.
Ed Balls, former Labour education secretary, was the final speaker at the rally. He said, “Michael Gove has told 700,000 children: ‘You aren’t worth investment.’
“The government isn’t using the funds saved from cutting rebuilds to cut the deficit. It is diverting the money into academies and free schools.
“It is the biggest assault on comprehensive education in the last 60 years.”
Building Schools for the Future was based around private companies bidding for contracts to rebuild schools. This did push costs up—and direct government investment would be much better.
But the cuts remain a vindictive attack on vulnerable children and the anger they have sparked shows the potential to build broad based campaigns against the Tories.
As Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT and chair of the rally pointed out, the government doesn’t have a mandate for its cuts. Everyone, not only parents, teachers and students, can be part of a mass movement to save our schools.