I try to keep this blog positive in tone, its main aim being to celebrate the world of children with unique genetic conditions and to provide some knowledge and support to those who might be on similar journey to our family.
But I increasingly find myself wanting to write about other issues that touch the lives of our unique children, that threaten to provide them with the support they need to achieve their full potential. So I ran this one past Marigold and she agreed – no she INSISTED – that is was something I should write about.
Some weeks ago now, I became involved in a local campaign: Fairer Funding For All Schools Lambeth. The campaign was formed by local parents fighting against cuts in education which see Lambeth one of the worst affected boroughs. There are a lot of factors behind the cuts: funding per pupil is not set to increase in line with inflation, increasing staff costs, higher NI contributions and pensions are just some of the additional costs schools have to pay which are seeing pupil funding shrink. On top of this, the government is looking to introduce a new National Funding Formula in 2018, which looks to address gaps in school funding in different areas by using a new method of distributing cash. The government proposes to achieve this by redistributing money between schools from a total pot that is shrinking in real terms. According to the government’s own figures, 49% of schools in England will lose even more funding with over 2 million children in the worst affected schools. Lambeth, a model that has seen investment which has raised standards and has transformed schools from some of the worst performing to some of the best performing over the years, will see 25m worth of cuts.
Often, I read data and statistics like this, and it sounds awful and it makes me angry, but it doesn’t mean that much to me personally. But last night I sat in a packed school hall with over 300 parents and teachers and heard some stories and predictions which make me fear for my children’s educational future, especially for Marigold, who we hope might attend a mainstream school with support in place to cater for her additional needs. A local MP talked about one primary school head who had seen the reduction of teaching assistants in every class to just one per year group and now even this was under threat. She said can foresee a time when schools will no longer be able to afford teaching assistants at all. Without teaching assistants, who will be there to give children like Marigold with additional needs that valuable 1:1 time that will help them thrive and learn? Class sizes look set to increase. For a quiet (currently non verbal) children such as Marigold, how will just one teacher hear her voice in a class of over 30 children? The curriculum will narrow, seeing cuts to “non essential” activity, such as arts and music …sensory activities that are of such huge benefit to many children with special needs. I was particularly moved by one primary school teacher and NUT official talking about how much they wanted to provide and support those children who need it most, those with English as a second language, those with special needs, those who are more vulnerable, but how that was becoming increasingly difficult for teachers and schools who are under so much pressure to do more with less.
The funding cuts will of course also impact on my son, who is currently in Year 1 and couldn’t be happier, enjoying every aspect of school life, but especially those subjects which fall outside the core curriculum, like arts and crafts, dance and PE, gardening (yes gardening!) His school, an excellent local state school, has built up a rich and diverse curriculum over the past ten to fifteen years which seeks to benefit every child, and it saddens me greatly that some of these enhanced activities that the children enjoy so much, could be cut.
As you may know from reading previous blogs, I love an 80s reference, so I was delighted when one of our local MPs talked about my favourite decade in her address. But the fact is in the 80s, music, TV and fashion were great…but so many state schools were not (although naturally we all loved Grange Hill). I did not live in Lambeth back then, but my parents were sufficiently worried about our local comprehensive at the time, that they ended up sending me to the local independent school. I enjoyed a fantastic education there, but it is not a situation I want to find myself in with my own children some 30 years later, and in fact not one Marigold, with her developmental issues can ever benefit from. We have seen what bad provision looks like back in the 80s, and we have seen what good provision looks like as we have had it until recently. Why would we not continue, as the 5th or 6th richest country in the world, to invest in our state schools?
I hope that by campaigning, by the parent community ensuring their voices are heard, we can change the government’s mind on how they invest in our schools. I hope not only that Lambeth receives the funding it needs to sustain its excellent, inclusive schools that it is so proud of, but that NO school loses out. I hope that all schools are given the funds to support all pupils to give them the education they deserve, from the gifted and talented children, to those like my Marigold who have so much potential, but need that extra support.
I know a lot of other parents share these hopes.
If you have read this and want to join the campaign and make a difference, here are some easy actions:
1: Respond to the government’s consultation. The government is consulting on its new formula for distributing school funds and it’s vital that lots of us answer before March 22. Here’s how to do it:
• Visit https://consult.education.gov.uk/…/scho…/consultation/intro/ and enter your details
• Go to question 1 and tick ‘no’ (There are 19 questions in total but you don’t have to answer them all. It’s most important that you answer the first.)
• Fill in any other bits you want and submit the response
• If you would like further guidance on completing the consultation, have a look at the guide on the website http://www.fairfundingforallschools.org/resource.html
2) Sign the petition – https://www.change.org/p/stop-school-funding-cuts-all-our-children-deserve-a-great-education
3) Write a letter or email to your MP – you can find a template letter to use and more information about this on the resources page of the Fair Funding For All Schools website (http://www.fairfundingforallschools.org/resource.html)
4) Get involved in the campaign at your school – ask if your school already has a representative for the campaign. Make contact and get involved. If not, you might want to become a representative yourself?
5) Join us on Twitter and Facebook – join the conversation online, help us to reach other parents, and keep up to date with campaign developments by joining the Facebook group (Fair Funding For All Schools) or following us on Twitter (@FairFundAllSchools). There are groups for local boroughs such as Lambeth, which is Fair Funding For All Schools Lambeth and @FairFundLambeth. Help us to raise the profile of the campaign by tweeting about it using #schoolsjustwannahavefunds
PS: I did not create the schoolsjustwannahavefunds hashtag but I am enjoying the 80s reference