We must keep de­mand­ing change for our chil­dren’s sake

Western Daily Press - - Agenda / Letters / Opinion - School airs on Tues­days at 9pm on BBC Two. The se­ries was pro­duced by La­bel1.

HOW bad does it have to get be­fore peo­ple re­alise how bad it is? That is not my ques­tion, but that of Cas­tle School teacher Alex Street in Tues­day night’s BBC Two doc­u­men­tary School.

Ex­plor­ing the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions heads and teach­ers are mak­ing daily on the back of cuts to ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing, the se­ries brings home the harsh re­al­i­ties schools in the Cas­tle School Ed­u­ca­tion Trust are fac­ing.

In the first episode of the grim six­part doc­u­men­tary, the stresses of run­ning a school are laid bare.

When Chloe, a 16-year-old stu­dent about to sit her mock GCSEs, suf­fers a panic at­tack, it feels nearly sym­bolic of our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to­day.

Pupils in South Glouces­ter­shire are among the bot­tom five low­est­funded in the coun­try. The Govern­ment’s new Na­tional Fund­ing For­mula re­lo­cates cash away from schools like Cas­tle, com­pound­ing prob­lems the school al­ready faces.

So when Philip Ham­mond ‘gen­er­ously’ gives schools a £400 mil­lion

Michael Yong, who writes on ed­u­ca­tion in the West, re­flects on the dam­age be­ing done by cuts to school fund­ing

bud­get bonus to “buy the lit­tle ex­tras they need”, call­ing it a “nice ges­ture”, you can see why the Chan­cel­lor was left with egg on his face.

No, Mr Ham­mond, schools don’t need your con­de­scen­sion or sneer­ing re­marks. They need the money, and quickly.

Af­ter years of stag­nant bud­gets and ris­ing costs – higher pupil num­bers, greater men­tal health needs, main­te­nance costs – schools like those in CSET are strug­gling to make ends meet.

No, it’s not just about money. No, it’s not just about teach­ers fac­ing pay cuts of £6,000, or head­teach­ers ask­ing par­ents for do­na­tions, or fundrais­ing for loo roll and sta­tionery.

No, Mr Ham­mond, it’s our chil­dren who suf­fer from th­ese cuts.

When Chelsea sets off a fire alarm in a cry for help, teacher Alex Grant ad­mits they are strug­gling to give her the sup­port she needs.

She is a bright, promis­ing pupil, but strug­gles with the trauma of be­ing racially abused in pri­mary school.

But be­cause pas­toral staff num­bers have been halved, she gets “on aver­age 10 min­utes a week”, ac­cord­ing to Mr Grant.

The raw­ness of what Chloe and Chelsea are go­ing through should make any par­ent sit up and take no­tice. I hope you did.

This is not fic­tion. This is not hearsay or po­lit­i­cal pro­pa­ganda. This is not the ‘left­ies’ and ‘snowflakes’ mak­ing things up.

This is our chil­dren’s, teach­ers’, par­ents’, head­teach­ers’ cry for help.

It is not about “white­boards, a cou­ple of com­put­ers, or what­ever it is they want to buy” – the “lit­tle ex­tras” as Mr Ham­mond would put it – it is about the next gen­er­a­tion.

“What kids need is teach­ers’ time. That’s all they want. That’s what’s gone,” as one teacher ex­plained in the doc­u­men­tary.

Bris­tol is among the cities fac­ing the largest cuts, ac­cord­ing to the teach­ing unions’ cal­cu­la­tions, while South Glouces­ter­shire is dumped into the bot­tom five based on per pupil fund­ing.

In the run-up to the last gen­eral elec­tion, thou­sands of par­ents, pupils and teach­ers took to the streets of Bris­tol to protest the cuts.

There is a rea­son it drew such an au­di­ence – some 6,000 peo­ple, if Avon and Som­er­set po­lice’s count is to be be­lieved – and it is be­cause this was not about silly pol­i­tics or the “lit­tle ex­tras”.

Th­ese were peo­ple who cared enough to come out on a rainy Satur­day af­ter­noon and into the city cen­tre to make their voices heard. This was not your usual crowd of pro­test­ers – for many that day, it was their first protest.

Things have got to break­ing point. Will Roberts, chief ex­ec­u­tive at CSET, told me that to pro­tect the num­ber of class­room teach­ers, he has had to find sav­ings nearly ev­ery­where else.

If you watched episode one, you’ll know what he means.

Blocked sinks, bro­ken win­dows and pupils wear­ing coats in­doors be­cause the heat­ing is not turned up.

“If par­ents re­alised the ex­tent of what’s hap­pen­ing they would de­mand change. At some point, that must hap­pen,” one teacher said.

At one point last year, 6,000 peo­ple did. But we need to do it again, and again, and again. Be­cause this is what hap­pens when we spend more time talk­ing about money and bud­get cuts and the “lit­tle ex­tras”, in­stead of our chil­dren and what we can do to help them achieve.

So let me ask you this: “How bad does it have to get be­fore peo­ple re­alise how bad it is?”

Schools need money, and quickly, ar­gues Michael Yong

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