Headteachers and union representatives have painted a stark picture facing the future of education if “criminal” cuts that will hit Bristol schools hardest go ahead.
The vast majority of schools across the city stand to lose out under the Government’s new ‘fairer funding formula’ that is expected to leave a £32bn shortfall by 2020 and see an estimated 1,000 teaching jobs axed.
“There is going to be a rock bottom moment if it carries on along this path,” warned William Brown from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) as he rallied for support at a public meeting in Easton Community Centre on Monday.
Passions ran high in the packed hall, as parents, teachers, governors and headteachers spoke out against the cuts that they said are already hitting Bristol’s most deprived children hardest of all.
“The Government’s promise has been broken,” said Brown.
“Teaching assistants are being let go and not replaced, teachers are leaving and not being replaced, school trips are not going ahead, books are not being replaced.
“This is the thin end of the wedge. We are actually in a place where close to irreparable damage is being done to our children. It feels criminal that this is happening and it feels criminal that this is happening to those who do not have a voice.”
The Government says that its formula will address current inequalities and provide fairer funding for all schools across the country, but those opposed say the reality is anything but fair.
Education activist Christine Townsend argued that while the Government says it is putting more money into education, the reality is that schools have to cover increased costs, including wage increases and pension contributions with that same pot, leaving them ultimately worse off.
Simon Holmes, headteacher of St Philips Marsh Nursery School, spoke of the desperate need to address the crisis, stating simply that it cannot go on like this.
The nursery’s catchment area of Lawrence Hill is in the top five per cent deprived areas in the country and has the highest deprivation rates in Bristol.
“What we are actually facing is £12.5m taken out of our whole funding support budget,” said Holmes.
“It’s a crisis. It’s hitting hardest in the most disadvantaged communities. 80 per cent of our costs is staffing, we have cut back in everything else.”
Head of City Academy Jon Angell painted a stark picture of how cuts are already hitting post-16 education, as A-level classes reach up to 25 or even 30 students because that is the only way in which they are viable, and the breadth of the curriculum on offer is forced to narrow.
He added: “The most vulnerable families and students are coming to my school and we are not being given the provision to meet their needs.”
One parent said he could not believe it when he heard about the extent of the cuts and appealed to the whole community to stand up and fight on behalf of all children and make their voices heard.
Ollie Turnbull is a teaching assistant and former teacher who quit when he felt the pressures prevented him from doing a good job. He said that four out of 10 teachers leave within their first year as he did and called the cuts an attack on our community.
Hosted by Up Our Street, an Easton-based community group and magazine, the event was one of a series of emergency meetings held across Bristol to discuss the impact of the proposed cuts.
A city-wide march against school budget cuts will take place on Saturday, May 20, and campaigners are urging people in Bristol to assemble on College Green at 11am to make their voice heard.
Speaking at the meeting, Anne Lemon, a teacher and executive NUT member for the South West, said she expected to see more than 5,000 people to turn out for the protest.
Read more: City council passes more than £100m of cuts