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Schools, put down your begging bowls. Unite and protest instead | Holly Rigby | Opinion

Category: Political Protests,Politics

Given the £5.4 billion shortfall in funding that schools across England have suffered in the last three years, it’s little wonder that school fundraising efforts to plug these gaps have had to become increasingly creative.

In the school I taught in last year, the school building was hired out in the evening to raise extra cash, so it wasn’t unusual to finish my marking to the lively sounds of the local Ghanaian church service in the canteen next to my classroom. At the end of last term, my current school hosted a conference for 500 teachers from across the country for a lively day of collaborative discussion on classroom pedagogy, with tickets costing visiting teachers £50 a head.

Now a Guardian report has shown that schools are embracing the modern trend for crowdsourcing and taking their fundraising efforts online. Gone are raffles of supermarket shampoo sets and Saturday afternoons spent flogging crumbling Rice Krispie cakes. Instead, the Guardian has shown that more than 1,000 schools are raising money through crowdfunding platforms like JustGiving or creating Amazon wish lists of basic supplies such as notebooks, glue sticks and cleaning products.

With any cash injections to schools from the Treasury looking unlikely, schools should not be blamed for trying to raise the money they need to keep afloat. But allowing local community groups to use school premises after hours or organising events for teachers to collaborate in shouldn’t be luxuries that schools have to charge for. When schools have to proffer their online begging bowls for pencils and lined paper, we know that something has gone seriously wrong with our school system.

We must not underestimate how dire the situation has become, even if the chancellor, Philip Hammond, insultingly claimed that schools only needed “little extras” in last year’s budget. Teachers are volunteering to reduce their salaries in order to safeguard the jobs of their teaching assistants. A school in Stockport is closing early on Fridays to save money on salaries and utilities. And a recent survey of 35,000 teachers on the parlous state of school buildings has found that two-fifths of schools had set up buckets in their classrooms to catch drips when it rained.

In light of this, charitable fundraising efforts are only ever going to provide a temporary sticking plaster over the wound inflicted on schools by this government’s punishing austerity agenda. These fundraising efforts, no matter how innovative or well meaning, also risk legitimising the “big society” ethos once espoused by David Cameron, which suggested that individual generosity could patch up the unjustifiable gaps in state provision created by Conservative austerity.

Instead, schools would be far better served if they joined the mass campaigns to pressure the government to increase school funding, particularly given there will be a spending review later this year. The National Education Union (NEU) is organising a mass planning day in Westminster’s Central Hall in June to bring together school leaders, teachers, parents and local councillors from across the country to build on the existing success of its School Cuts campaign. Just last week, the NEU collaborated with the f40 campaign group for fairer funding in education, chaired by Conservative councillor James McInnes to deliver a letter signed by 1,000 councillors demanding that the education secretary, Damian Hinds, delivers billions in funding in the upcoming spending review.

I’m personally not going to hold my breath over Hinds’s promise that schools have a “strong case” for extra funding. After all, there’s a reason why 750,000 people switched their vote in the 2017 general election as a result of worries about school funding. Many of these votes went to Labour following its promise to invest £6 billion in schools if elected.

I understand why people committed to their local schools have not wanted to stand by and watch as school leaders and teachers struggle to provide even the basics our children require for a decent education. But fundraising is not the answer. Instead, passionate educationalists everywhere must now unite to take mass action to ensure we have a government committed to providing the school funding that our children and their schools deserve.

Holly Rigby is a teacher, a Labour party member and an activist in the National Education Union

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