If you are in any way interested in our education system, you will need a heart of stone not to feel great sympathy for the South Gloucestershire schools who have become so desperate about the funding crisis that they felt the need to go very public about it. To hear the teachers and administrators at the Castle School in Thornbury explain to the BBC that their ageing school is in real trouble is awful. Puddles in the classrooms when it rains, an elderly heating system that sometimes requires children to where coats in the classroom, gas taps in the science block that don’t work, insufficient resources to take pupils on school trips, windows that won’t open. And that’s not even mentioning the chronic lack of resources that is causing a recruitment crisis and forcing some teachers to take major pay cuts.
Castle School in Thornbury and Marlwood in nearby Alveston were once the go to schools for parents who believed, not always correctly, that their children would get a better education if they took a lengthy bus ride from Bristol and other parts of South Gloucestershire. Those who still put their children on the bus every day must be wondering now if they are doing the right thing, but that’s beside the point.
It must have taken great courage for the trust that controls the schools concerned to tell what is a very difficult truth, which is that schools are being underfunded. The current government spins that more money is being spent on education than ever before. The truth is far more complicated than that. Here is a much more relevant statistic. From 2000 to 2010, school funding rose in real terms by 65%. From 2010 to now, school funding was cut in real terms by 8%. South Gloucestershire suffers from inadequate funding more than anywhere else in the country. And with a statistic comes a cold reality: it is our children who are suffering.
My children were very lucky. They attended the former Filton High School which was flattened and then rose like a phoenix to become Abbeywood School. a dynamic new head teacher who is now the CEO of the Olympus Trust, turned the school around. My sons both subsequently attended the prestigious Russell Group University of Bristol. They were educated at a wonderful new build school built at a time when governments still invested in education. They walked and cycled down the road to get there. No lengthy bus journeys wasting a large part of their days. Where is the money to rebuild Castle and other schools which were built several generations ago?
Castle School has shown immense courage in coming out publicly about the crisis in education funding. In his budget, the chancellor, the utterly complacent Philip Hammond, casually handed out a few hundred million quid with which schools could purchase those “little extras”. You know, “little extras’ like teachers, teaching assistants, pastoral care, whiteboards, school trips, classrooms that are warm and dry. One of the most senior politicians in the cabinet full of multimillionaires calls these things “little extras” when they are absolute requirements.
Educationalists are not crying wolf. They are desperate, they are being honest, they need better resourcing. Nothing much is at stake, apart from the future of our country and those who will shape it. If we tolerate this, the destruction of our children’s lives will be next.