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Misers at the top: Are we satisfied that our schools can now pay for those ‘little extras’?

You know the closing scene of the 1970 film, Scrooge, where the people of London are kicking their legs out in front, behind and to the side, as they follow the reformed Ebenezar? Their thumbs looped around their waistcoat lapels or apron straps, elbows lifted jauntily? Well, I’m imagining that’s what was happening around the streets of Westminster this week, following Philip Hammond’s budget. Mr Hammond obviously leaping and skipping out front with delighted, grateful teachers at his heel in awe of his generosity. They can now afford those ‘little extras’ they’ve been whingeing on about forever! ‘Thank you very much, thank you very much, that’s the nicest thing that anyone’s ever done for me…’

Whiteboards and computers apparently are now going to adorn every classroom of every school nationally. ‘Technology, sir, we can ‘ave some technology?’ My concern, however, is that over the past years I have been reading about schools sending letters asking for contributions to enable them to buy toilet paper, schools where children are unable to play in the playground as it the surface is deemed too lethal to do so, and of course teachers increasing use of their own money to provide resources and even food for their students, struggling in this era of austerity. Before the Building Schools for the Future policy was scrapped by the Coalition, my school had been due to receive funding to revamp their dilapidated main building. It was later awarded enough money to clad the school and hide its crumbling interior. As a colleague commented on this announcement, “Nothing like rolling a turd in glitter!’

And once again, we see our current government give a cynical nod to the grievances shared by our dwindling teacher workforce. ‘Go buy yourselves something nice, and wipe those grumpy faces away with a little retail therapy, princesses!’ might well have been how he presented this on Monday. Let’s be very clear here, when you’re trying to wash your hands of something, you don’t go out of your way to rescue it. And we have to be very careful that we don’t fall into their trap; the one which furtively transfers financial responsibility for education into our little individual hands, leading to the further social division encountered by our students across the nation, and providing only something very rudimentary for the poor at the bottom of that trickle I’ve mentioned before.

An example. My children attend a very middle class primary school, with lots of parents investing fully in their children’s education and development. No problem with that obviously. But what has happened in this era of cuts is that we, as a parent community, are willingly making up the financial shortfall experienced by the school. Over the summer, a learning pod was built, added on to the music and art block…yes, the arts and sports are flourishing at our school. The money for this building came solely from fundraising by the PTFA. I believe one fundraising event last year, a comedy night, garnered wealth into the thousands. Tickets cost £15 each, raffle tickets were bought by the page, and drinks flowed. And this was only one event! Now parents will, quite rightly argue, ‘But we care!’ And they absolutely do.

But I felt so guilty sitting there that night. I know for a fact that primary schools in parts of the borough where I’ve taught would have no means of achieving this. They do not have PTFAs; they couldn’t throw money at such events; they don’t have parents with the connections, the social capital, to actually put on a comedy night. They can’t rescue their school from the Conservative’s distaste for state education. The school therefore cannot build a learning pod! But they do also care. They are trying daily to maintain the basics for their students, students who really could do with accessing such glorious resources as a learning pod, rather than watching their teacher gather pens and pencils with the demeanour of someone discovering gold.

Philip Hammond and his colleagues in the cabinet are sending a very clear message: if you want better, you pay for it. If we do start throwing money at only our children’s education, then Mr Hammond, Mr Hinds and Mr Gibb can sit back, put their neoliberal feet up and watch the social groups divide even more into the haves and have-nots. What we see now is individuals being encouraged to pay their way to success whilst whole communities are allowed to flail.

The Labour Party introduces its manifesto for a National Education Service with the statement, ‘When it fails, it isn’t just the individual that is held back but all of us.’ Absolutely. We must see ourselves as a national parent body, not only as the parent responsible for those children in our households, or for those in our kids’ school communities benefitting from our raffle ticket purchases, but for every single child who walks through a school gate five days (hopefully not soon to be four) a week.

Scrooge is asked if ‘it is more desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute’. His answer? “Are there no prisons?….And the union workhouses – are they still in operation?’  Will it be long before these words are echoing within the walls of the House of Commons?

 

When Philip Hammond stood up to deliver his budget speech on Monday, we – along with teachers, parents, headteachers, unions, other campaign groups and many MPs – had reasonable expectations. Knowing that campaigners across the country have highlighted very effectively the impact of the 8% cuts to school budgets, we expected at the least an acknowledgement of the difficulties schools are facing. Instead, we were expected to be gratified by the announcement that schools could have a “little extra” to buy a new computer. Even though many schools have long since had to reduce the number of teaching assistants they can employ to help children use that computer.

Schools are increasingly reliant on parent teacher associations for funds. Traditionally these associations have funded additional equipment and trips which extend and enrich our children’s experience of school. But parent associations are now being asked to provide the funds for basic equipment – like paper!

Parent school associations depend on support from local parents. And therefore on the depth of those parents’ pockets. So by asking parents to pay for school essentials, it’s quite likely that schools will not only continue to suffer, but that educational inequality will rise further.

We need to continue highlighting the struggle in our schools to provide the essentials – like teaching assistants, support for children with special educational needs, and repairs to buildings. Please keep us informed about what your local PTA/HSA is being asked to pay for, so we can add strength to the campaign.

Message us on FB, comment below, or email us on info@rescueourschools.co.uk

Our children deserve better. #LittleExtras

EDUCATION IN CRISIS – A CONFERENCE

WHEN: Saturday 10th November 2018, 10:30 – 15:30

WHERE: Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9BB

WHY: Our children are the most unhappy in the developed world while their teachers face a higher workload than practically anywhere else.

  • We have growing problems of cuts and a teacher recruitment and retention crisis.
  • Our market-led school system puts finances before the well-being of pupils
  • Our tests and exams narrow the curriculum while increasing stress
  • Our inspection system punishes more than it supports
  • In our school culture, management is intrusive and workload ever-rising.

    BOOK NOW – https://bit.ly/2Ehha9Q

Speakers include:

  • Diane Reay, Professor of Education at Cambridge University
  • Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union
  • Madeleine Holt, parent, Rescue Our Schools
  • John Hayes, Primary Headteacher, Camden
  • Jayne Grant, former deputy head for Inclusion, primary
  • Emma Murray, Primary Headteacher, Haringey
  • Richard Rieser, inclusion campaigner

More than a Score is planning a SATS SIT IN on December 5th. Anyone fancy running an event, or know of a good area with lots of keen parents?

More than a Score is planning a SATs Sit-in on Wednesday 5th December – a large group of parents sitting in exam conditions in a school or village hall (or if that’s not manageable even round a kitchen table), taking a 20-25 minute SATs paper, made up of a blend of the most utterly absurd, and the most absurdly difficult questions across SPAG, maths and English. Grandparents are also welcome to take part.

Want to do something fun while making a stand for your children? Please contact us at info@rescueourschools.co.uk or campaign@morethanascore.org.uk

Education, Control and the Individual: Do you want your child to be a faceless member of a school community?

You haven’t heard from me in a while. I’ve been thinking. A lot. So much has happened in the past weeks. There’s been the Labour Party Conference at which Angela Raynor introduced the National Education Service, and I’ve started teaching, as I mentioned in my last blog, but in the adult education service. I’ve also visited my favourite head teacher for a tour of his school and there’s been Damian Hinds too of course. As I said, a lot to think about. Here are a few of my musings to which I hope you may have some comments, questions, or even better, the answers.

It’s time we change our response from ‘Why is this happening?’ to ‘We know this is happening and we want change!’ I’ve talked before about the cynical treatment of our education and other public services under this government and I will say it again. They know exactly what is happening in our schools. They know the curriculum is being streamlined; they know zero-tolerance behaviour policies are rife and they know their teaching community is becoming younger, less experienced and more malleable. This culture is their baby and it’s growing well in their eyes. We need to start fighting not questioning.

The Mercia Learning Trust has created great discussion and surprise, but from my experience as a parent where I live, their policies are nothing different to what is on offer for my children in a couple of years’ time. Admittedly, our local school doesn’t bully parents in or out of their choices through nasty rhetoric, but it certainly gives no leeway for us to respond to their offer on the table. These schools are free to do this, and in fact encouraged in this free for all which is our current education system. They’ve got results in mind, so everyone has to put up and shut up – or in the jargon of schooling today, be resilient. This zero tolerance approach to behaviour is leading to the extreme off-rolling statistics. It is creating a culture of fear across school communities; the sort of fear which shuts down the conscientious, keeping their heads down so as not to get into trouble for the lack of a pen and kicks out those who really don’t need to be kicked out.

I am going to be radical. What would happen if children were treated as the individuals they are? Something obviously abhorrent to the team at Mercia. This has really struck me in my new job. Teaching adults, I am faced by a group of people now able to bring their individuality to the learning space. As much as I can deliver lessons that I deem appropriate for their level and support needs, I can also respond, dare I say it, to their personalities. Instead of a sea of blazers and ties, dulling their individuality, I am looking at peroxide hair, tattooed arms and faces, tracksuit bottoms and a sea of pattern and colour. They walk in with their identities proudly on show and I am challenged to work with them as such. A wonderful, fruitful challenge, evidenced by the comment my peroxide blonde, tattooed, track-suited student made at the end of his fourth lesson with me, ‘I love how animated you are!’
And remember, many of these are the kids who have failed in the past few years. They still blame themselves for a poor relationship with schooling and attribute their failure to their poor attitude. They tell me they struggled at school; they didn’t get on with school. For me, their reasons suggest a lack of support and engagement at the systemic level. One tells me his attendance averaged 10% and that he lacked a traditional support structure; another that she moved between her parent’s homes but failed to connect at any of the schools she attended. Teachers can be inspirational and committed but if the child feels excluded from the system at any level, that battle to get them through becomes an uphill struggle, which sometimes leaves them and you rolling back down into the abyss.

You see, going back to my point about their individuality and identity pervading the learning space, I don’t buy the ‘uniform creates an egalitarian belonging for all’ argument. It didn’t work for me. I wore a uniform for 11 years of my schooling and never felt I belonged. My children are at a state primary without uniform and skip into that place daily, clearly happy, even proud to be a member of their school community. Some days they are dressed in football kits, others my youngest is in his tiger trousers and my eldest is in a t-shirt he designed himself. Depends on their mood. And what a dynamic space an assembly is, with all those colours and patterns to stimulate your creativity! But also, my children’s teachers can again read their students’ personalities…their identities. Isn’t it important to be able to assert your individuality in order to find your place within a community? And be able to accept others’ within it too?

Schools present a mould into which all children are expected to fit. So many don’t. I spent much of my teaching time in the behaviour unit at my school with those students who had been removed from the classroom for persistent poor behaviour. It was there that you were able to engage with them, to talk about their realities, to get to know them. Mostly, they were bright, they were keen to belong to something but they did not fit the mould of these faceless school communities. They weren’t compliant, their lives were complicated, their support structures erratic. They wanted to be seen and heard and unfortunately this usually only happened for them when they caused trouble. Their time with me in the behaviour unit became quite precious. I gave them creative tasks, such as making a storyboard for a film about their lives, and while they did this, they talked and I listened and I responded. They asked me questions about my choices, my life and I answered. A dialogue formed which was healthy and honest. Their behaviour settled in my space. The thing is everyone likes to be recognised for who they are. If they aren’t getting it at home, due to difficult spaces and relationships, working patterns, and the stress of poverty, they seek it elsewhere. A school should provide this. Zero tolerance is at best a ridiculous policy; at worst it is harmful. As parents, we really shouldn’t accept it. Surely we want our children to be seen as individuals who do deserve some personalisation and differentiation.
Whenever I read posts on TES about compassionate behaviour management, there’s always a comment about ‘I’m a teacher, not a psychologist!’ Depressing that any teacher can see their profession like that. I taught a boy whose mother suffered a severe mental illness. She was no longer allowed near her children. It was not surprising that this boy struggled to form relationships with teachers, particularly female teachers. If one thing went against him, that was it, you lost him. Punishment meant little. He didn’t care about being put in isolation – that has been going on for years by the way. He was too damaged to be hurt by such things. There had to be another way. It had to be something compassionate; it had to be considered. A young man soon to be an adult, he needed to feel someone would give him the time. He was one of the biggest battles I ever faced: told me he hated me numerous times; sent lessons into chaos, but the joy was that he returned to the school with his younger sister for her options night four years after he’d left, and sought me out to tell me his future career plans. We’d got him through and he rated that. He’d become a man, apparently happy and positive.

I am so scared for my children’s next step into schools that present this ‘one size fits all’ model. On my tour of my nearest school, I was informed that my child will wear a cross on their blazer, they will start preparing for their GCSEs from day one in a culture of ‘an uncomfortable sense of increased competition’, they will sit in rows and be silent everywhere! Apparently, they can tell my sons not to have tram-lines in their hair, or a quiff as is fashionable now. The office manager very comfortably informed me of this. So despite the fact that we are not religious; that we talk about learning as a lifelong journey to enjoy; that we encourage their discussion and argument, that we desire their individuality to be at the heart of their development, we will lose all say in that! I love the fact that my children rifle through their wardrobes in the morning, deciding what to wear, and when we go to the barber, they tell him what they want; last time the youngest chose tram-lines and the eldest a lightning bolt. But soon, the school will dictate that as anti-learning and that they must sport the same haircuts as all the other boys in the building. And they will sport their conformist haircut at the weekend too because their school has to ‘assert their brand in the market-place’. His words, absolutely not mine!

I know I am in the minority with my anti-uniform spiel but for me teenagers are not people in need of control. They are exciting, complex people in need of direction, support and guidance. Every child enters the school space with their narrative, with their baggage, with their identity. It is not the place of the system to flatten that, to undermine or negate that, but to engage with it and allow their new school identity to fuse with all the other extrinsic influences as they continue that journey of self-discovery. If a school seeks to flatten, undermine and negate an individual’s identity, it is obviously part of an agenda of control to maintain a social construction that suits those at the helm. Mr Hinds popped his head out of his office to state there will be a cash injection to look at improving behaviour, and there’s been a call out to ex-army service people to join the education service. If they want to teach, great, but lets tell Mr Hinds we know where disruptive behaviour comes from. Lets tell him to fund support for those with special educational needs and for anyone vulnerable within the system. Lets tell him to look at the impact of the government’s austerity measures on children’s levels of home-life security. Lets tell him to consider why knife crime has gone up at a time when other resources have been stripped. Lets tell him not to just send ex-army officers in to shout. Lets tell him to train all teachers, whether they’re ex-army or not, to consider their sociological role and consider the psychological impact of life experiences on the young people in their classrooms. Let’s tell him we are not sending our children to private schools, as he would like, but we are staying right here to ensure the government does not strip the state sector back to its bare bones and undermine the chances of all children to succeed in their own right. We see the agenda and we will fight it.

We are on LBC again this morning talking about school uniforms

Madeleine Holt talks to Nick Ferrari this morning about school uniforms after this article in The Mirror sparks debate.  Read the article here

What do you think? Does your school’s choice of uniform have any bearing on your children’s schooling?

Let us know on social media or email us

Very interesting points about school funding that all parents should know

• Analysis of the actual school funding allocations from 2015/16 to 2018/19 shows that the real terms cuts are probably even worse than the £2.5bn that were originally estimated – as school costs have actually turned out to have been higher than the NAO originally anticipated. What we do know is that schools in England received over £2.5bn less in real terms this year than the start of the 2015/16.

• There are 66,000 more kids in state schools in England this year compared to last, yet compared to last year there are 10,800 fewer staff in our school – including over 5,000 fewer teachers, over 2,500 fewer teaching assistants and over 2,000 fewer support staff.

• And a major survey by the National Governors Association this month shows that “three-quarters of governors believe financial pressures will harm the quality of education and nearly a third of schools were in the red”.

All this means, we’re still seeing:

• Heads increasingly struggling to balance budgets

• Cuts to staffing

• Increasing difficulties matching funding to special education needs and vulnerable pupils

• Cuts to counselling and mental health services for kids
• Parents being asked for regular funding contributions

Political situation:

• The budget will be held in October this year – a very important one as it is likely to indicate the total spending envelope over the next 4 year period (the spending review)

• Next year the spending review will set out what each government department is planned to receive in terms of revenue (day to day) and capital (buildings, equipment) over each of the next four years

• The Chancellor therefore has the opportunity to reverse austerity and spending cuts and start investing in schools and other public services

• Research (by New Economics Foundation and others) recently published suggests that the Chancellor could borrow up to £30bn more without breaching his ‘fiscal rules’ – these are the limits that the Chancellor has put on borrowing and spending in order to eliminate the deficit and bring borrowing down as a % of GDP

• We are seeing more and more Conservative MPs voice their concerns about this. In recent months, we’ve seen Theresa Villiers, Ann Main and Tim Loughton (ex-children’s minister) have all publicly raised concerns about impact of cuts to schools.

Events coming up:

• Parents and children are meeting MPs at Westminster this Wednesday 10 October

• The F40 group of lowest funding local authorities are meeting MPs at Westminster on 15 October

• Parent campaigners are holding a national day of action on 19 October – #floss4funding #parentsteachersunited

Parents, teaching unions, headteachers, F40 and National Governors Association are all out there making the case for more funding for schools in order to:

• Reverse cuts since 2015

• Enabling real terms funding increases per pupil going forward

• Meet increasing school costs, including teacher pay, pensions, NI, apprenticeship levy, inflation and other costs

• Ensure the implementation of a fair National Funding Formula that doesn’t relay on taking money away from some schools to give to others.

Layla Moran, John McDonnell and Caroline Lucas are among a cross-party panel of MPs hosting a Parliamentary briefing-with-a-difference tomorrow. At the event, children will come from all over England to tell and sing their stories of how years of damaging underfunding is affecting them and their schools.

We do hope you have signed up for this event..if not, click this link

We have heard today that due to reasons beyond our control unfortunately we are no longer able to use the Boothroyd Room in Portcullis House for our event.

We are pleased to tell you that the event is still going ahead at a different venue, but we have had to change the timings slightly so that we can be accomodated.

Due to the unprecedented nature of the event, there has been a lot of press interest.  We would like to invite you to attend a press call ahead of the event itself.

Please see below for press call details and new event venue and timings:

Press Call:
DATE: WED 10 OCT
TIME: 12.45-1.30PM
VENUE: PARLIAMENT SQUARE
PHOTO/FILMING OPPORTUNITY: CHILDREN, PARENTS, MPs AND ARTWORKSEvent:

DATE: WED 10 OCT
TIME: 2- 3PM
VENUE: COMMITTEE ROOM 16, WESTMINSTER HALL (CROMWELL GREEN ENTRANCE)
EVENT: CHILDREN’S SPEECHES, ARTWORKS, INTERVIEWS WITH CHILDREN, PARENTS AND MPs

We would be delighted if as many of you as possible could join us on Parliament Square for the press call.  Please note that this will not be a protest, but a small and quiet gathering to provide a backdrop for the press.   Please no banners or chanting as we don’t have permission to protest!  After the press call we can make our way to Westminster Hall straight from Parliament Square where we will be checked in.

If you are unable to make the press call beforehand, you are still very welcome to come to the event. Please come to Westminster Hall twenty minutes prior to the start of the event as it can take up to twenty minutes to get through security.

The venue is slightly smaller than the Boothroyd Room and as such we need to keep a check on numbers.  If you are no longer able to make it, we would be very grateful if you could de-register yourself on eventbrite.  If we cannot accommodate everyone in the room itself on the day, please bear with us, an overspill looks great for the press and we will provide copies of the speeches to anyone who couldn’t get into the room.

Please accept our apologies for the short notice, we very much hope to see you on the day!

With best wishes

Gemma (on behalf of Save Our Schools)

 

Have you had a child off-rolled? Do you home school?

We have been approached by a TV production company who are making a documentary for a major broadcaster about home schooling. They are keen to hear from parents with experience of children being off-rolled and then home-schooled. If you would like to chat to the producer with no obligation to be filmed, please email us at info@rescueourschools.co.uk

Layla Moran, John McDonnell and Caroline Lucas are among a cross-party panel of MPs hosting a Parliamentary briefing-with-a-difference on 10 Oct, 2018. At the event, children will come from all over England to tell and sing their stories of how years of damaging underfunding is affecting them and their schools.

Parent campaign group Save Our Schools UK, in conjunction with other parent groups nationally, including Rescue Our Schools, have invited MPs and Peers to the event, and expect MPs from all parties to seize the opportunity to hear directly from children and their families about the impact of the cuts.

“Recent claims on spending and on quality of education from the Department for Education are deliberately misleading, and have yet again led to investigation by the National Statistics Authority,” says Alison Ali, co-founder of the SOS campaign in Brighton & Hove.

Independent figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that funding per pupil had fallen by 8% between 2010 and 2018. There are 66,000 more children in state schools this year than last, but 10,800 fewer staff, including 5,000 fewer teachers and 2,500 fewer teaching assistants. And a recent survey by the National Governors Association shows nearly a third of schools nationwide are already in the red.

“As other state services crumble, schools are expected to do more, with more pupils; yet they’re being given less money, and have fewer teachers,” Ali continues. “A nine-year-old can see the figures don’t add up – it’s time for Damian Hinds and Philip Hammond to do the maths and reverse the damaging cuts before schools slip so far into crisis there’ll be no coming back.”

Children will speak about the different ways the funding crisis affects them, including their heartbreak at losing most of the teaching assistants at their schools; the devastating cuts to SEND provision; the social inequality created by an increasing reliance on parent donations; loss of opportunity as non-core subjects disappear from the curriculum and what it’s like to learn in crumbling buildings.

“We can see with our own eyes the effect that funding cuts are having on our schools,” says Edie Bellamy, a 12-year-old from Derbyshire. “We want to be able to study the subjects we love; we want children who need help to get it. We want all the MPs to ask the government to start funding schools properly so that every child can have a good education.”

Children will bring large-scale artworks and messages to the event, as well as hand-painted pebbles for MPs to keep on their desks as paperweights. Parents will be asking MPs to sign a pledge to lobby hard for a properly funded education system, and will distribute dossiers cataloguing the effects of these real-terms cuts in regions around the country.

The parent-led event, bringing together Save Our Schools, Fairer Funding for All Schools, Rescue our Schools and many new parents groups springing up around the country, comes hot on the heels of more than 1,000 head teachers marching on Downing Street in September, and demonstrates how parents, teachers, heads, support staff, governors and teaching unions are working together to demand a reversal of the funding cuts in this Autumn’s budget.

“Philip Hammond’s predecessor said this year that ‘ministers would need to see a marked and rapid deterioration in standards’ before they stepped in with more cash,” says parent and teacher Kate Taylor, from Birmingham. “Parents can see that deterioration plainly, as our donations prop up school budgets, school buildings spring hundreds of leaks and we hear of 2,000 SEND children being left in limbo with no state education whatsoever.”

Parent groups – and their children – want to know how bad things have to get before the Treasury abandons its crisis-driven approach to funding schools, and provides the money needed to make sure all our children get the education they deserve.

Register for tickets here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/a-parliamentary-event-by-save-our-schools-uk-tickets-50407290563

#childrenspeakMPslisten #parentsteachersunite

Parents – Please help! Make sure your MP hears our message about school funding

We need as many MPs and Peers as possible to attend a briefing we have organised.

On 10 October Save Our Schools, Fair Funding for All Schools and Rescue Our Schools parent groups are taking their children to Parliament to tell their stories about how underfunding is damaging their schools, their education and their communities.
Please encourage your local MP to come to this event and listen to children from around England telling their stories. How? Forward this video to your local MP on Facebook, then share this animation widely asking all your friends to do the same. You can find out your MP’s Facebook address by going to https://www.theyworkforyou.com and scrolling down to the Social Media part of their profile.

Thank you for helping to ensure that when children speak, MPs listen!

#childrenspeakMPslisten

Parents, our children are in the hands of careless money-makers and political agendas. Isn’t it time we demand change?

This week you’ll find my blog takes quite a personally political journey. My politics are very left leaning but I am also very angry with this current government as I witness the impact of their policies furthering the hardship suffered by those already battling on the invisible periphery of our society. These are my opinions based on my observations and I invite all to comment, to engage, to discuss where we find ourselves today, how we feel about it and most importantly, what we want done about it.

I have a new job in adult education. On my way to work I pass the Grenfell Tower. Today a tall white tarpaulin structure supports the weakened skeleton beneath and hides the devastation of that night. The green heart, chosen by school children local to the area, symbolising their love for those they lost, adorns the top section of this otherwise clinical memorial. It is hard not to be moved every time I trundle past on the daily commute. It’s hard not to be ashamed that this actually happened in London, in 2017, in a borough which hosts some of the world’s wealthiest people. But what is particularly unforgivable is how the residents had complained over and over again, fearing it would only be when a tragedy occurred that the powers-that-be would listen to their voices. Unforgivable but unsurprising.

Why am I writing about this, you may wonder? Because it is a physical representation of how broken the ‘system’ has become as the neoliberal project powers full steam ahead here in the UK. Money rules. If you can save a pound here or there, apparently it is okay to view human life as collateral. We have a government that endeavours to turn all aspects of social care and provision over to private providers. Whether it be the cladding of social housing or access to good education, ‘bidding’ and ‘tendering’ have become the language of our human rights. How about ‘Everybody’s right to life shall be protected by law’ (European Convention on Human Rights, Article 2)? Anyone? Who’ll start the bidding? Or how about: ‘Education must develop every child’s personality, talents and abilities to the full’ (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 29)?  Of course, the neoliberal line is all about freedom, but freedom for whom in this trickle-down economy? Certainly not those living in Grenfell Tower. Their freedom of voice was ignored at every turn in their battle for the legal right to life. Must they really wait for that trickle to enter their neighbourhood before they earn that freedom? Meanwhile, no money, no power.

The Grenfell fire came out of the same neoliberal agenda as our current education system. The shutting down of parents’ voices in education by the loud and affluent men at the heart of our children’s education, Lord Nash, Lord Agnew, Lord Fink (anyone spot a pattern?) and their millionaire buddies, is leading to the catastrophic failing of schools to provide the right to education for every single child. Not every child is guaranteed safety in their home, nor a chance to thrive under this government. But do our leaders care?

Not really. People really are an encumbrance to our government. Remember Theresa May’s apology for her poor response to the Grenfell community on the anniversary of the disaster? Stating she regretted not meeting them, she has gone on to not meet them. Her apology took place in the safety of an interview with Sky News. The carelessness and cynicism with which our government treats those it is supposed to serve is unconscionable. That apology is meaningless. It’s offensive. But maybe it’s meant to be. These people demanding action and support from the State really are trying their luck when they know they must wait their turn…you know, for that trickle to reach them.

If we needed more evidence of the cynical treatment of our children under this government, we can look to Damian Hinds every time. He views everyone he has responsibility for, students, parents and teachers, as liabilities. I’d like to draw your attention to a quotation from last week’s TES regarding the recent reports on the impact of the new GCSE assessment on students’ well-being. Findings from research carried out by NEU, ASCL and Rescue Our Schools have suggested categorically that this is an urgent matter of concern to be dealt with at the highest level. Mr Hinds responded:

“Having, for most subjects, the exams at the end of the period also enables you to think, to consider all the different aspects of the subject together and, in turn, then helps you if you are going on to A levels for those that are, to go on for that, and then for those going on to university, but of course GCSEs are there to help you prepare for whatever your next step is.”

It’s rather like when you pick dropped food up from the floor and you okay its consumption with ‘a bit of dirt never hurt.’ There is no substance to this answer. Some bits of dirt actually probably do hurt, as does the introduction of retrograde policies. The uproar and controversy this return to 100% examination has caused is widespread. The stress amongst students is leading to increased levels of anxiety and both parents and teachers are shouting out their concerns. But Mr Hinds brushes this off with the glibbest statement ever: bit of thinking, great for A levels and university, oh yeah and for those others.

Those others. Again, we see those who don’t fit the government’s agenda being brushed under the carpet. They’re not important. They don’t need thinking about. I am not happy as a member of the London community to see any child in my city be swept under the carpet. I will get my children through, one way or another, but I cannot stand the thought that it’s not the responsibility of the State to ensure every child actually lives to adulthood and is allowed to prosper. I have seen children arrive in year 7 full of aspiration and dreams and watched them realise by year 10 that they aren’t the ones that matter, and they start to slip from your hands.

I remember, with great frustration and sadness, one of my year 11 boys becoming homeless in the run up to his exams. He was so clever, undoubtedly a Russell Group university candidate, but his controlled assessment folder was incomplete, his attendance was poor and his behaviour volatile. Prison was also another possible destination. Living in a hostel with his two sisters and hardworking mum, his school work was not his priority. He became passive and withdrawn, both physically and psychologically. If challenged, he exploded. As his English teacher and one of his heads of year, I made it my aim to make him feel safe in my space. He finished his controlled assessments – and believe me, his creative writing was stunning in its craft but also its visceral emotion. I did cry. Unfortunately, he was placed on a fixed-term exclusion for swearing at another teacher. At his ‘return from exclusion’ interview, he apparently sat silently until he was asked to offer his opinion regarding his attitude going forwards. He simply responded with a number of the most hardcore expletives. He was permanently excluded so spent the exam period locked in a room in a hostel, revising. This broke my heart. For me, that was a shout out from a young person, to see if anyone was going to care, if anyone was going to grab his hand and get him through. The system instead just confirmed for him that he actually doesn’t belong within it. Where he is today, I don’t know, but I’m going to guess he’s not about to enter the doors of the university he is so academically suited to.

Let’s be very clear, this government seeks to wash its hands of education. It seeks to strengthen the market to create competition between ‘providers’ (in the old days these were known as ‘schools’) and ultimately privatise education. The responsibility for failure is no longer theirs. Any offer it therefore makes is not to nurture the system but make it vulnerable to those with pound signs in their eyes. Panorama’s report this week on the Bright Tribe Academy Trust could not have exposed more clearly how schooling has become vulnerable to profiteering at the risk of our children’s learning, but also their lives. Fire doors not fitted, ceilings not secured nor fire safe, despite grants worth thousands of pounds handed over unquestioningly by the Department for Education. Where is our money? Whose bank accounts is it now in? Why are our children allowed to enter these lethal buildings? If the CEO of a trust needs a lawyer present to talk about their provision, it’s time, surely, to put a stop to this policy and bring education, our human right, back into the hands of the democratically elected local government; accountable to the government, accountable to us.

Now, you may be lucky. Your child may be in a school with an ethos of care where children are placed at the heart of all they do. And this is of course happening across the nation. Despite the funding cuts, limited curriculum and increased stress, they are doing their utmost to protect your child’s education. But we know others are not having that experience. They are lost in a world of money-makers and agendas. Their education is suffering and their safety is not guaranteed. Parents are cut out and disempowered. If we believe in a good education for our child, we simply must ensure the same for other people’s children too.

Let’s start fighting for the prevention of horrific outcomes. Grenfell shocked our nation and the response was overwhelming with donations and sympathy. But we need to act sooner. We need to demand people are not unwittingly placed in danger; that everyone is heard. If you live in social housing, if you attend a state school, you should be safe in the knowledge that government, both local and national, has got your needs and your rights covered. At the moment, this is not the case. Local government is being steadily brought to its knees; the Prime Minister doesn’t want to see you and Damian Hinds will brush you off like dandruff from his shoulder. It is time to make it clear that we are not liabilities in the path of their agenda; their agenda is the liability in the path of our children’s progress. We want it cleared.