“At the moment, schools don’t have enough money. It’s as simple as that. School leaders know it, teachers know it, governors know it, parents know it,” said NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman as he opened our Westminster event to relaunch our school funding campaign.
The event, held in the Houses of Parliament yesterday, was a chance for school leaders to meet MPs from all parties to help them understand the devastating effect that budget cuts are having on the quality of education.
Throughout the evening, NAHT members talked about the drastic measures that they are having to take to balance budgets that are now beyond breaking point: redundancies, a narrowing of the curriculum, an inability to invest in vital equipment and a reduction in extra-curricular activities.
Amongst the most heart-breaking stories was the testimony of Clem Coady, an NAHT member from Cumbria. He said, “My own children go to the school where I’m the head. I was faced with a situation where I had to make the teaching assistant in my own son’s class redundant because of the cuts to my budget. At the end of last year, I had to let the caretaker go. Now I do his job as well as my own. I came in over the summer holidays to paint the classrooms myself.”
The event was attended by dozens of NAHT members, all with similar stories to tell. And they had a receptive audience. Around twenty MPs from different parties turned up to hear for themselves what effect school cuts are having on the front line.
Earlier in the day, the government had announced that the Autumn Budget would take place on Wednesday 22 November, giving the speakers gathered in Westminster a greater focus for their campaign work. From now until then, NAHT’s #TellTheChancellor campaign invites members, governors, parents and others to write to Philip Hammond to lobby for more money for schools.
Jack Dromey, Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington sponsored the event for us, and he had a rallying call for everyone in the room. “We must bring alive the consequences of underfunding”, he said. “Mobilising parent power is key. Parents are concerned and if that concern is mobilised and channelled effectively, when the Budget comes, we will see success.”
Many other speakers agreed that parent power was a key element of the next stages of the campaign. As Paul Whiteman said, “I know that parents are right behind us. I was lucky enough to be at a rally of parents in Westminster in July. The £1.3bn from Justine Greening was announced forty eight hours after that, as it happens, so that proves what parent power can do.”
Whilst the DfE announcement was welcomed by many, all the speakers were clear that the money wasn’t sufficient. Nor were there any commitments to increased funding for the long term. NAHT’s goal is to secure fair and sufficient funding for all schools, with at least £2bn of new money every year, providing enough to raise the 1% public sector pay cap and to make a success of the new national funding formula.
Although the impact of cuts weighed heavily on the minds of everyone in the room, there was also a sense of optimism. Closing the event, Anne Lyons, NAHT’s national president, remarked, “I have a feeling of hope that there are MPs who are going to support us. And I don’t often feel that. It’s only by working together that we can make a difference.” Addressing the MPs in the room directly, she said: “Tonight, I hope we’ve given you food for thought and ways to apply some pressure and ‘Tell the Chancellor’ that school budgets are still at breaking point.”
You can find out more about the campaign here.
First published 13 September 2017