Parent and pupil power on show in school funds march in Cambridge organised by Fund Our Schools
It began with a handful of parents worried about cuts facing their children’s primary school.
This week their concern led to a rally featuring hundreds of protestors marching through Cambridge on Monday (April 1) - and now they hope to make it a national campaign.
The plan to march against the enforced budget cuts at St Matthew's Primary School was hatched only two weeks ago when seven mums met in a cafe to discuss what could be done to save their children's education.
On Monday around 1,000 protestors joined their march from Parker's Piece to The Guildhall, led by children in fancy dress, waving their homemade banners.
The campaign, called Fund Our Schools, will not end with the march, according to one of the organisers Claire Summerfield. She said: "My hope is this will become a national campaign looking to ensure that central government actually puts the appropriate amount of funding into schools. We are talking about £44.5 million of funding cuts in real terms across Cambridgeshire. This isn't about my individual children: it’s about children across the country where schools are closing a half a day a week because they can't afford to stay open. It's about the fact that we won't be able to replace teachers if they leave, we can't replace ICT equipment, we don't have enough pens or glue sticks - we don't have the basics that allow teachers to do the best job they can."
Marching for change - parents, pupils and teachers unite against the school cuts
Shouts of “save our schools” rang out across the city on Monday as hundreds of parents and children marched to the Guildhall to protest school funding cuts.
The rally was organised by parents at St Matthew’s Primary School where leaders have been told they will face a £60,000 cut to the school budget in September.
Children from the school led the protest, many wearing fancy dress and waving homemade banners as they marched from Parker’s Piece to the market square.
Organised by local parents who have formed the Fund Our Schools campaign group, the march attracted hundreds of protesters.
Parent Donna Ferguson, whose daughter Flora is in Year 2 at the school, said: “The response has been unbelievable and way more have joined us than we ever imagined.
“A group of seven working mums just sat down two weeks ago and said ‘let’s do something about these cuts – let’s have a march’. And suddenly hundreds of people have turned up for this.
“It is so overwhelming and makes you feel like you can actually make a difference if you just put your mind to it.”
The parents behind the march had the backing of their children’s headteacher, Tony Davies, who joined them at the protest. And they even organised a banner-painting session after school so children could make their colourful placards demanding an end to the school funding cuts. The date of April 1 was chosen to ‘highlight the foolish funding cuts’ to local schools.
Katie Porrer, mum of Year 2 St Matthew’s pupil Emily, said: “None of us are professional march organisers or anything, this has just grown because of the strength of feeling. And the fact that the kids are leading it is brilliant. I took a tally in the playground of who would be coming and when we reached 350 names we ran out of space to write them down.
“We are losing £60,000 from our school’s budget next year and it is cut to the bone already, so this will now be cutting into the bone.
“My worry is it will hit the most disadvantaged disproportionately because some support for children with additional needs may have to go. We are already funding a lot of the books the school needs through money raised by the PTA, because that budget already went.”
When the march arrived outside the Guildhall, the crowd heard speeches from parents, staff, union representatives and some of the children who jointly read a statement asking for the funding cuts to be stopped.
Donna added: “I’m so proud of the many children who marched with us, most of whom attend primary schools in Cambridgeshire. They dressed up, made beautiful banners, blew whistles and shouted at the tops of their voices “Save our schools! Fund our schools”, marching side by side with their parents and teachers to send a clear message to the government. At the end of the day, this is about children so their support and presence was crucial. Children have the right to a properly-funded education and in Cambridge they value that, unlike the government it seems.”
“The march was organised for after school on April 1 to highlight the ‘foolish funding cuts’ to local schools that will see many unable to replace staff or buy basic supplies for classrooms.
“I’m particularly proud of the young children from St Matthew’s Primary School who bravely stood up in front of a crowd of 1,000 people to make a speech, arguing for better funding for schools. These children are our future and we can only hope they grow up to be better citizens than Damian Hinds.”
St Matthew’s Primary School’s head, Mr Davies, was at the rally. He said: “The level of support has been overwhelming. We have people here from schools all over Cambridge. I have spoken to someone who came all the way from Royston to be here. It just shows how important schools are to people.
“We are working out what the impact the cuts will have at our school. It is really beginning to cut in to our core education now. We have been making efficiency savings for years and years. But now we have done as much as we can, just as have schools all over the country.
“These children are the future of our country. It’s their personal development and their hopes and dreams I worry about, because it is not just one year of cuts. It has been year upon year upon year of cuts. I worry about all the years ahead for these children. All the way through the history of their education they will be trying to learn against the background of underfunding.”
School budgets have been cut by eight per cent since 2019 according to an analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
Cambridgeshire is one of the worst funded authorities for education with £400 less per child than the average county and £1,600 less per child than Westminster.
A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesman said: “Through our calls for Fair Funding for Cambridgeshire and as part of the f40 campaign we are also working together with the 42 other lowest funded education authorities to put forward
new fair model for distributing education funding in England.”
The high number of small, rural schools in Cambridgeshire have been disadvantaged by the cut in the lump sum allocation for each school from £150,000 to £110,000, resulting from the introduction of a national funding formula.
Parent organiser Claire Summerfield said: “It is an enormous turnout today and I have to say it is down to parent power. When we heard about the school funding cuts that are going to hit across the country a lot of parents sprang into action looking at ways of problem solving and one of those was about fundraising to fill the funding gap. But to my mind no parent should be filling a funding gap that should be filled by the government, so the level of funding is simply not high enough.”
The high needs budget is also under enormous pressure with increasing numbers of children with high needs and, according to the county council, the complexity of their needs is rising as well. Funding for early years childcare is also stretched as government funding levels for 30 hours of ‘free’ childcare do not cover the costs of delivery, particularly in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire.
Funding for the county’s schools has not kept pace with inflation over recent years and although two-thirds of Cambridgeshire schools saw a modest increase in funding for 2018-19 this has been completely eroded by increasing costs including salary and pension increases, growing recruitment costs, funding the establishment of new schools, inflation and the apprenticeship levy.