22nd Oct, 2017

'One pencil per half-term,' says angry teacher as Solihull schools funding row boils over

Les Reid 12th Oct, 2017 Updated: 13th Oct, 2017

ONE angry teacher waved half-used shortened pencils given to his students at councillors, as a row over schools’ funding in Solihull boiled over.

Coleman Doyle said money was so tight that kids were now getting only one pencil per half-term.

Teachers had to buy second-hand library books out of their own pockets from charity shops, he added.

He was addressing councillors alongside other teachers and parents at a full council meeting debate on Tuesday (October 10).

As we reported in brief on our front page this week, the speeches were delivered with emotion from those who experienced every day the ‘harm’ to children from real-terms budget cuts.

Campaigning parents of Solihull borough pupils are ratcheting up the pressure.

The Fair Funding For Solihull campaign group was set up by parents and school governors, and is followed by hundreds on social media.

The man waving the worn pencils, Mr Doyle, has taught in primary schools, secondary and special needs schools in Solihull and further afield, and his children attended schools in Shirley.

He told councillors passionately: “These are three pencils. When my students started the year in September, these pencils were full-size. Look at the size of the pencils now.

“If we don’t have the pencils, I have to source them.

“Look at the looks of incredulity on members’ (councillors’) faces at the moment. It says it all really.

“Im sorry I’m getting annoyed… I am on the frontline, in the trenches fighting for your children and your grandchildren.”

He said scant resources were not only damaging children’s education but teachers’ morale.

“We’re going from charity shop to charity shop trying to find second-hand libary books because we cannot afford them..

“If you don’t believe me, go to the classroooms.. not for a day, but for a term or a year… find out!”

He added one book provided for a recent Maths lesson, which he declined to use, asked how many cigarettes a woman would smoke if she smoked three packs a day – as it was dated ‘1978’.

“This is happening to all of us, not just in Solihull. It’s not right for Solihull councillors to say, ‘We’re fine, I’m alright, Jack.’

“We’re all on board this ship heading for the iceberg.

“…I’ll carry on but I will not keep calm. None of us should keep calm at the state of this,” he exclaimed.

Among the Fair Funding For Solihull campaign group’s founding members is Claire Melia, whose son attends one of Solihull’s schools.

The campaign accuses Conservative MPs and councillors of ditching their support since their party in government announced in July funding adjustments, said to benefit Solihull schools.

The changes were designed to re-balance funding inequalities between areas of the country, and help the most disadvantaged schools.

But those funding changes until 2020 were analysed by the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies and considered to still be resulting in a funding freeze and long-term cuts to schools. The money was merely being re-allocated within existing education budgets, it said.

Ms Melia, mother-of-two and a former teacher, told the Solihull Observer after addressing the council meeting: “None of us has done this before. Three of us set the group up because as school governors we had an insight into what was going on.

“We’ve had support from the Green party, Labour, Liberal Democrats and even UKIP, but cross-party support has not been forthcoming.

“A lot of Solihull schools are being propped up by active Parent Teacher Associations and nurseries to keep them afloat. That’s not sustainable in the long-term. It creates disadvantage where there aren’t PTAs.

“The pot (for education and schools) isn’t big enough. It has not risen with inflation. We’ve only seen money redistributed from an inadequate pot.

“It is pitting areas, schools and parents against each other. We don’t think schools in wealthy areas should be better provided for – all schools should be adequately provided.”

The group is part of the national fair funding campaign and will be joining a lobby of Parliament for the chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement next month.

STATEMENT FROM GREEN PARTY OPPOSITION AFTER DEBATE.

“The Conservative group on Solihull council have voted against all other parties on a motion for school funding, despite passionate pleas from parents and teachers.

“The motion asked for the council to call on both Solihull MPs to protect real-terms per pupil funding in the borough.

“Real terms’ means that funding matches the increase in costs that schools are facing.

“The council had been lobbied by a group of residents prior to the meeting, asking them to protect school funding, but the Conservatives were the only group that didn’t vote to support their pleas.

“Cllr Tildesley (Con) had stated that the motion ran against the ethos of the Fairer Funding Campaign, as it was never about more money, but about the cake being distributed more fairly.

“Cllr Windmill (Lib Dem) had challenged Cllr Tildesley by saying that the cake is not big enough.

“Cllr Meeson (Con) had said that our MPs should be thanked for their efforts so far and not asked to do more, before stating that he would oppose the motion. “However, the Greens, Lib Dems, Labour and UKIP all saw things differently and backed the motion brought forward by the Green Party.

Cllr Max McLoughlin (Green Party), who helped table the motion with Cllr Maggie Allen (Green Party) says “I’m frankly disappointed with the Conservatives on the council.

“We have teachers, parents, heads and unions all saying that there is still a problem, but they aren’t listening. We aren’t asking for the earth, simply that we ask our MPs to do what they can to make sure school funding doesn’t go backwards.

“I feel embarrassed for our council, that such a meek request is ignored by the Conservatives.”

WHAT SOLIHULL BOROUGH CONSERVATIVES SAY

Caroline Spelman MP, in her column in July in the Solihull Observer, welcomed £1billion ‘extra government cash for schools’ and hailed it as a ‘breakthrough’ for a fairer funding campaign for Solihull borough.

The Meriden Conservative said £1.3billion extra nationally over two years from next year, under the new funding formula, had followed decades of campaigning for a better deal for Solihull borough schools.

Dame Caroline said it would mean an average three per cent more for local schools for two years.

She said it followed two decades in which Solihull had faced the challenge of being one of the worst funded areas in the country for education, with its schools receiving almost £1000 less per pupil than Birmingham and Coventry.

Solihull MP Julian Knight also claimed education secretary Justine Greening’s announcement demonstrated ministers were listening to campaigning MPs and headteachers.

But the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said it still amounted to a real-terms freeze on school budgets, with the extra cash coming from pots of cash for ‘free schools’ and healthy pupils’ projects.

The IFS also warned schools still faced real-terms cuts by 2020 of 4.6 per cent.

Councillor Ken Meeson, Conservative Solihull cabinet member for education, said in July: “As a council we have campaigned for many years through the F40 Group for a Fair Funding system across the country and it is good to know that the government has committed to rectify an inequitable formula which has seen schools in Solihull having to educate children on far less money than those in neighbouring areas.

“I am sure the additional funding will be welcomed by Head Teachers, School Governors and Parents across the borough.”

Labour shadow ministers said it showed the government was ‘finally listening’ but the measures did not go far enough.

 

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