A simmering revolt is spreading across England. Parents are setting up campaign groups, organising meetings, printing leaflets and calling demonstrations.
They are mobilising tens of thousands of others to join a battle to stop the government slashing billions of pounds from school funding. The Tories may have bitten off more than they can chew.
Their ironically-named “fair funding formula” will snatch £3 billion from schools a year by 2020. Parents know there is nothing fair about it—and have set up Fair Funding for All Schools (FFFAS) groups to fight back.
Matt is the co-founder of the national FFFAS. “In three months we’ve got groups in about seven London boroughs and also in the Tory shires,” he said. “New groups are being set up in places such as Devon and South Gloucester. It’s not confined to one area.”
Parent Ellie helped set up a local group in Lambeth, south London. “We only started six weeks ago,” she said. “We’ve already handed out over 15,000 leaflets and over 20 schools now have parent reps.”
Around 300 people joined an angry meeting over the cuts in Lambeth last week. It followed big meetings held across England.
Bristol parent Huw is helping build a meeting over the cuts for later this month. “In the last week around ten or 12 parents have taken hundreds and hundreds of leaflets to distribute,” he said. “I’ve never seen that before.”
Sixth form teacher Jean described a “fantastic” campaign in Shrewsbury. “It has brought together parents, teachers and head teachers—which is very different,” she said.
“The driving force though is the parents. They’ve been really fired up. They can see how schools can’t cut anymore.”
Parent Victoria co-runs FFFAS in Cheshire East. “I set up the Cheshire East campaign at the end of January,” she said. “Now we have 3,500 members on Facebook and have leafletted the whole area.”
We have seen budget cuts for the last three years. But this year’s are even greater and the future looks pretty bleak
North London parent Liz
Cheshire East will become the worst funded local authority in England if the funding formula goes ahead. Rebecca, a parent and teacher in the area, said there has been “a huge response” to the plan.
“People are outraged,” she said. “In my school this could mean the loss of 14 teachers by 2019/20.”
But schools are already at breaking point.
Rebecca said her school has already cut support staff “particularly admin staff and teaching assistants”. Budget cuts have also meant “there is no money available for any extracurricular events, enrichment activities or new resources”.
Lambeth parent Ibtisam added, “My daughter used to have one full time teaching assistant (TA) in her class. Now the TA rotates across the year group.”
Liz is a parent governor at a primary school in Enfield, north London. “We have seen budget cuts for the last three years,” she said. “But this year’s are even greater and the future looks pretty bleak.
“In Enfield a two-tier education system is just around the corner.
“Some state maintained schools—those with plenty of wealthy parents—are asking for monthly direct debits from parents.
“Obviously schools with a less wealthy parent body cannot rely on this sort of support and no school should have to.”
Kasia is a parent and special educational needs teacher in Lambeth. “Children are already raising money with bake sales and things,” she said. “In my school the girls have fundraised to pay for their football kits.”
“The parent teacher association raises a lot of money for the playground.”
The new cuts open up a nightmare scenario. A new Education Policy Institute report found primary schools would lose £74,000—and secondary schools would lose £291,000.
Every primary school would lose two teachers—and every secondary school would lose six.
The trade unions’ website schoolcuts.org.uk puts the losses even higher—over £100,000 for the average primary school and £470,000 for a secondary.
Schools will be pushed to employ unqualified teachers to cut costs. There won’t be enough books or other materials to go around. Trips could become a thing of the past.
In South Gloucestershire, one head said the cuts could lead to a four-day week in schools.
The Local Government Association said councils may be unable to meet legal obligations such as checking staff for criminal records or buildings for asbestos.
Lambeth parent rep Natasha retorted, “If a parent put a child at risk, they’d be charged with neglect. If the government does it, it’s ok!”
GMB union national schools organiser Sharon Wilde told the Lambeth meeting how one school in Surrey was told to find £250,000 in savings. “They downgraded TAs, then made some redundant,” she said.
“Then they said TAs would have to teach. Now they say they will drop some of the teaching staff down to four days a week.”
It’s not that the money isn’t there. As Shrewsbury parent Jodie put it, “Cutting school budgets while handing corporations a £70 billion tax cut is preposterous.”
The Tories don’t want to spend money on working class children. Besides, they’ve got a more important agenda to push.
The Tories are ploughing billions into free schools while state-run schools rot. Free schools, which are privately-run but state-funded, don’t provide a better education. But they do undermine the state’s role in providing education.
Jodie said, “I fear the free school and grammar school idea is a sneaky way to break the school system so it can be privatised.”
Parent Netty added, “I think there’s a political agenda. It feels like we’re going back to the 1950s. The gap between those who have and those who have not is getting wider.”
Natasha had a strong response to Theresa May’s plan to open new selective grammar schools.
“We’ve had grammar schools and they failed,” she said. “Why not take a hint?” Rebecca said the government is “planning a return to selective education”.
“The best schools will be able to ‘cream’ off the best students, leaving the weaker students for schools seen as struggling,” she explained. “These schools will then be able to achieve top grades, making them more appealing, and they will become oversubscribed.
“More students equals more funding—so these schools will grow while poorer schools struggle.”
We’re not going to let the education budget get cut. This campaign is taking off everywhere—and the government would be unwise to ignore us.
South London parent Ellie
For Victoria, it’s “upsetting” that the government seems to be promoting “segregation”. She added that the money for free and grammar schools is desperately needed elsewhere.
“We have good schools but they are very old,” she said. “The heating bill is astronomical. But there’s no extra money to pay it.”
Councillors, head teachers and even Tory MPs have criticised the funding formula. A consultation on the plan ends this week and parents feel they can push the Tories back. But they are rightly mistrustful.
Matt said, “The government’s position is untenable.
“But my fear is they will give something to the shires and leave London with huge cuts. We can’t let them turn this into a metropolitan versus rural argument.”
He said many parents had rejected the Tories’ attempts to set schools against each other. “The MPs in Cheshire are Tories and they said too much money is going to London,” he said.
“But at a meeting I went to there, every single parent said no, we’re not listening to that. They said we want a bigger pie.”
Victoria added, “To take from one school to give to another when there’s already not enough money in the pot is not fair on anyone.”
Jean said the Tories can be pushed back. “We’ve seen them turn around very quickly over the national insurance rises,” she said.
“We need to keep up the pressure, maybe with a day of action or a protest.”
Ellie pledged that parents would stop the attack. “We’re not going to let the education budget get cut,” she said. “This campaign is taking off everywhere—and the government would be unwise to ignore us.”
But the fight can’t be left to parents alone. The NUT teachers’ union, and Unison and GMB unions that organise TAs, needs to take action, call demonstrations and organise strikes that can stop the attacks on education.
“Schools have to be places where children can thrive,” said Ellie.
“We don’t want to go back to 30 years ago when school was just something you survived.”
The Tories’ cuts and moves to privatise the education system are part of a much bigger agenda to turn schools into exam factories.
Schools will also be pushed to focus on “core” subjects—and could scrap others altogether.
For some, this transforms the idea of what education is for.
Parent Netty is a musician who runs an after-school music club. “It’s as though if you can’t pass a national exam in something, it’s not worth doing,” she said. “But there’s more to life than that.
People are really angry because this gets you in the heart.”
The cuts mean a much worse education for all children, but those who need more help will suffer the most.
Jodie from Shrewsbury said having the chance to play music helped her daughter, who “struggled academically”, to become “more confident in other areas”.
She added, “If it wasn’t for the extra support she had, I doubt she would have made it through school.”
South London teacher Kasia said, “I support a boy who is severely dyslexic. He can’t read and write on his own—it’s impossible for him to be there without support.
“Previously I supported a boy on the autism spectrum. I would take him out of the classroom and do something completely different with him if needed.
“Without me, he’s just sitting there.”
The Tories won’t just have an impact in the classroom, but damage children’s experience of growing up.
As Jodie said, “School isn’t just about learning to read, write and solve problems.
“It’s about nursing those lights that children shine.”
An important new book
Activists say why they're marching
Palestinian activist speaks of his experience