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Let's unite to stop government cuts to our schools

Councillor Claire Holland, Lambeth Deputy Cabinet Member for Schools, blogs on proposed Tory cuts to schools and the upcoming public meeting against them.

Two years ago David Cameron visited Kingsfield School in Enfield to talk about the Conservative election manifesto and its commitments on education. He said: “I can tell you with a Conservative government, the amount of money following your child into school will not be cut.”

That cast iron promise, repeated throughout the election, has turned out to be one of the many pledges that the Tories have abandoned with breathtaking arrogance. Their proposed new funding formula will see a very real and dramatic cut to schools, with a particularly devastating impact here in Lambeth. Under the formula, 70% of London schools will receive less funding. And Lambeth is set to be the biggest loser alongside 4 other inner London authorities. The National Audit Office estimates that due to these proposals and increased costs, schools will face an effective cut of £3 billion. The National Union of Teachers estimates that Lambeth schools will see a real terms cut of 16%. This equates to an average loss of over £550 per pupil – a staggeringly high figure. Some schools will suffer more: if your child attends Lilian Baylis for example, the estimate is a loss of £1024.00 per pupil.

This will deal a devastating blow to local schools, made all the more galling given the progress we have made in the education system since 1997. Over the past 20 years, London has gone from one of the worst places in which to go to school, to the top performing area in the country. And prior to 2006, Lambeth was one of the poorest performing education authorities in the country. That has now transformed thanks to the hard work of teachers, pupils, parents and the local council: we are now in the top 10%. In fact, the most recent figures tell us that 96% of our schools are good or better and 40% are outstanding. That ranks us in the top 15 of 152 local authorities. We know that we continue to face challenges in inequality of outcomes for our poorer students, and for children of Black Caribbean and Portuguese heritage outcomes are more inconsistent than those of their peers, which is why Education and Learning is one of the four themes of the Lambeth Equality Commission chaired by the Leader of the council.

But whilst challenges remain, we should be proud of how far we have come. Successive Labour governments from 1997 to 2010 invested in education, education, education, to support teaching, to raise standards across the board and to target children and communities that needed it the most. Labour created and funded a variety of innovative programmes from Education Action Zones to Children’s Centres and the London Challenge. We invested in bricks and mortar with Building Schools for the Future funding.

Most importantly, we invested in our most valuable resource: our teachers and school staff. In Lambeth, Labour embraced these reforms, whilst also ensuring we ran our services competently. For example, there is now a place at school for every child who wants one, for the fifth year running. This is in stark contrast to the 500 children who found themselves without an offer of a school place when a Tory-Lib Dem coalition last ran Lambeth. We have consolidated partnerships between our schools, within clusters, working across schools, supporting each other and sharing good practice. Our schools have worked tirelessly and have succeeded in raising attainment, for all our children, at all levels, giving our children a bright future and teaching them to love learning. A lifelong lesson for our children of which our teachers can be rightly proud.

But this imminent threat to our schools’ funding places Lambeth’s hard-fought success in jeopardy. The new formula punishes Lambeth schools for being successful. Schools are already facing increased pressures after seven years of Tory-led government (5 years propped up in coalition by the Lib Dems): ask any head teacher or chair of governors, and they will tell you their budgets are already squeezed. And now with this unnecessary and unfair cut in schools’ funding, the future is bleak. Schools are worried about redundancies, less equipment and fewer learning resources, class sizes and the funding of additional assistance for vulnerable children. Please be in no doubt: significantly less money will be following your child into school under this government.

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Lambeth Labour utterly opposes these cuts. Last April, when the initial proposals were introduced, we launched our education campaign. Since then we have delivered thousands of leaflets, gained over 800 signatures for our petition (which can be found here) and highlighted the issue repeatedly at council meetings, as well as directly to the government. Parents and teachers have joined us in highlighting the real threat to our schools. Parents have set up a campaign group called Fair Funding for all Schools Lambeth. You can join their Facebook group and follow them on twitter @FairFundLambeth. We are joining them at a public forum bringing together parents, teachers, head teachers, governors, local politicians and residents to oppose these cuts: Wednesday 15 March at 7pm at Sunnyhhill Primary School, Sunnyhill Road, SW16 2UW. Cllr Lib Peck, Chuka Umanna MP, Helen Hayes MP and the general secretary of the NUT will be speaking alongside parents, teachers and governors. Please do come and raise your voice with ours.

Two weeks ago, Ashmole Primary School in my ward (and where I am proud to have previously served as a governor) won a London Evening Standard School Award for "Outstanding Achievement in Challenging Circumstances". This was fully deserved for their excellent work with children from a diversity of backgrounds and disadvantage, and demonstrates that our schools are first class. The award was given in person by Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for Education. Yet she wants to cut Ashmole’s budget by an estimated £600 per pupil, putting at risk precisely the work for which they were being given credit.

Children in Lambeth deserve better than these broken promises - they deserve the best possible future we can give them. It is time for the government to listen to the concerns being raised from across Lambeth as well as other parts of the country: we cannot allow our children’s future to be put at risk by these ill thought out and unfair funding cuts.

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