Students have described how they are already feeling the effects of the ongoing financial crisis at West Sussex schools.
Kira Beeson, Anaya Wakefield, Nell Mineyko, James Broughton, Jacob Tasker and Katrina Evershed, who attend Tanbridge House School, spoke of fears for their education while defending teachers who face some tough choices to make their budget stretch.
West Sussex has, for years, been floundering near the bottom of the government’s funding table, receiving around £40million per year less than the national average and £200million less than some London boroughs.
Teachers, parents, governors and politicians have all stepped up to fight for a fairer deal for the future and, more recently, for help to plug the gaping hole in their finances until that brighter future arrives.
For today’s students, though, that fairer deal - known as the National Funding Formula - will not come soon enough, particularly given the government’s decision to delay it until September 2018.
They need their schools to be properly funded now - and they fear their education will be the price that is paid for years of under-funding in the county’s schools.
Jacob, who hopes to go on to Oxbridge, said: “As a school student in West Sussex, I feel strongly enraged about the fact that the government underfunds my home county to the stage basic school supplies such as whiteboard pens, lined paper and glue are rationed throughout the students.
“In a state where technology is taking over, having a lack of working printers is disgraceful - especially with long pieces of homework and coursework to get done.
“As a student who has aspirations of going to Oxbridge, not having basic school supplies to achieve high grades in my GCSEs is abysmal, especially with the fact I now have to rely even more so on them as opposed to A-levels.”
Jacob added: “My message to the Prime Minister would be: ‘If you want the people of tomorrow to achieve the best they can possibly achieve, then you cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today’.”
Headteachers have warned they may have to take “radical” action if no extra money is given to schools before the introduction of the National Funding Formula.
That action includes: modifying school opening hours; increasing teacher to pupil ratios; reducing basic services such as cleaning; no investment in books and IT equipment; designing curriculum offers that fulfil only basic requirements; and not replacing staff who leave.
While some politicians have spoken against these possibilities - and broadcaster and journalist Piers Morgan accused heads of making ‘last-ditch Armageddon threats’ - the Tanbridge House students stood firmly by their teachers.
Kira said: “In this whole situation, I think the dedication of staff and students shines forward. Teachers pay out of their own pockets for some of our equipment. Despite lacking adequate funding, we are still a high-achieving school…for now.
“However, if we can’t get enough funding to stay open for five days a week, our learning will be highly disrupted and high grades and bright futures will be harder to maintain.”
Anaya said: “Along with cuts to resources in lessons, such as printing and revision notes, we are noticing that some of our excellent teachers are leaving the school to work in the private sector.
“Living costs in West Sussex are some of the highest in the UK and our teachers are struggling under the current constraints in funding.
“If West Sussex schools have to enforce a four-day week to meet costs, then our education will suffer enormously, with potentially lower grades and a loss of our teachers, who will look to other counties for full-time work.
“We need a fairer share of the education budget for West Sussex to help maintain the standards we deserve – why are we worth less?”
The Worth Less? campaign for fairer funding which has been supported by every primary, secondary, academy and special school headteacher in the county, has been running for more than a year, and its importance has not been lost on the younger generation.
Katrina said: “The Worth Less? campaign has been the topic of countless discussions for many months, asking the questions that deserve answers, all leading up to the crucial question: are we, the children of West Sussex, worth less than all other children in the country?
“Our education has suffered with less money to be spent on classroom resources and IT; we cannot have fulfilling lessons with all the resources and hands-on experiences possible, to achieve our full potential and truly spark our interest.
“For instance, whiteboard pens are close to being rationed.”
She added: “Not only are small resources dwindling, but our larger equipment supplies are suffering: several printers are broken, and have no funding to be fixed. So, apparently worth less students have less ability to complete homework at school, and can only print a limited amount.
“With this in mind, will this neglect in funding impact the knowledge and skills of current and future generations?”
Nell had a very blunt opinion about the financial crisis and said: “I feel this whole fiasco is a brutal injustice.
“It feels like the government are setting us up to fail: making GCSEs harder, the pass grade higher and then giving us only a slither of a chance to succeed.
“We may be young but we have aspirations – aspirations that are slowly drifting out of reach with this lack of funding. If we have to go to four days a week we will fail and it’s this country that will be left with the aftermath.
“Aren’t we the country’s future?”
James said he did not think running lessons in a four-day week was a good idea.
He said: “I know a lot of people my age who would love it if there was one less day of school a week, but it simply won’t work. It may preserve money, but it isn’t good for our mind’s expansion to be cut off because on the business side of things that can’t happen.”
Regarding the funding issue, he added: “I think that this is unfair in most respects, to our school in particular, because if we are getting less and the other schools are getting more, we won’t be able to fund ourselves, but another random school can.”
When asked about the issue of teachers using their own money to pay for essentials, Tanbridge headteacher Jules White said: “Students like Kira are probably referring to small but basic essentials that staff help with such as rewards - ‘well done’ postcards, stickers et al - and even items such as board pens and equipment that help youngsters if they forget pens, pencils.”
He added: “I believe it is vital for students to be involved in this type of campaign. The funding situation is affecting their education now and life opportunities for the future.
“We also know how important it is for students to be actively engaged in citizenship and democratic processes.”
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