Supported by the comedian Steve Coogan, the Save Our Schools (SOS) movement received extensive coverage this week after it led a protest outside 10 Downing Street on 6 July.
A couple of months ago, the talk of the town was the “Schools Just Wanna Have Funds” video, produced by the Fair Funding For All Schools organisation.
Meanwhile, BESA has been leading the Resource Our Schools campaign since May to raise awareness of how schools need to be properly resourced if they are to offer the best education to pupils.
Across all three campaigns, the message is substantially the same: schools need more funds.
“We could not stand by and do nothing”
Like Fair Funding For All Schools, SOS is a parent-led movement. Nupur Verma, one of the SOS funders, gave me the history of the campaign. A group of nine parents from the Brighton & Hove area, all with children in different schools, began to take an interest in what was happening in the classroom. Through working closely with teachers and headteachers, earlier this year they began to hear about the funding cuts.
Nupur said: “When we saw the magnitude of what was coming, we could not stand by and do nothing, when all this money is being stripped away from schools, from our children.”
Nupur explained that they decided to act because teachers’ complaints did not seem to have any impact on the government.
“We thought that if parents stand beside teachers and we speak with a common voice, we would be more likely to be heard. And we have been successful in putting education funding cuts on the agenda.”
Indeed, a YouGov poll conducted early June found out that education had become the third most important issue in the general election.
Cuts to children support services to be expected
Yet for its most recent intervention on 6 July, SOS decided to take a different approach to tackling funding cuts. Coordinating with schools across the UK, it asked children to write letters about what they enjoy studying and find stimulating at school.
Children delivered 30,000 letters to Theresa May’s doorstep. The letters implicitly highlighted the impact that school funding cuts will have on children’s lives in the classroom. While most of what children enjoy relates to the arts, sports and other extra-curricular activities, these will be the hardest hit by budget cuts, according to SOS.
“Resource-rich subjects, like arts, etc., will suffer,” Nupur told me. But she believes other areas of school life will also bear the brunt of the cuts – the teaching assistants (TAs) most of all. “In Brighton & Hove, TAs already are seeing their job put on the line!” she said. Indeed, 51 TAs in the borough are already in talks with school Heads about how their posts will change due to reduced funds.
For Nupur, seeing TAs lose their jobs is deeply problematic because it deprives children with special needs of any support. “TAs are the ones who spend time with children and help them on an individual basis. So SEN provision, for example, will likely be cut.”
She added: “Any situation where a child needs just a little bit of extra time, of extra support, which was usually provided by the TA, will face a gap. If TAs are not there anymore, all those children will suffer, and with them their whole schools.”
How can the government save schools?
Despite the Tory manifesto promising to increase education budgets by £4bn, the UK government has been accused of manipulating the figures and being oblivious of the cuts per pupil. The SOS movement identified that a further £3bn per year were needed to give children the “forward-looking, broad-based education they deserve”.
Nupur believes that the government possesses that £3bn but is allocating money to the wrong places.
“Funding, for education, is a matter of finding the money. The government has enough money, but a lot of it has been allocated to free schools, and we need it to be for the state schools instead.”
She added: “The government needs to re-evaluate its priorities: it needs to abandon the free schools project – and thankfully it seems it has already shelved the grammar schools project, at least – and reallocate the resources that it’s earmarked for that to state schools.”
Asking for £1bn to protect schools funding, Justine Greening, the Minister of State for Education, has acknowledged the extent of the crisis that schools are facing.
SOS received the full support of Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton, who talked at one of the group’s events last month, and is supported by other MPs of the Brighton & Hove area.
Nupur is therefore optimistic that this education crisis will be solved before another election takes place. In the meantime, BESA will be promoting SOS efforts and continue to push for Resource Our Schools.