Last Friday, the Head Teacher of Osborne Primary, Michelle Gay, spoke from the heart when she explained the damaging impact of school budget cuts on her pupils. Appearing on ITV News she stood up for them and explained how passionate she is about improving their life chances. However, her voice then broke with emotion when she said that the choices she is being forced to make because of budget cuts will have “a detrimental impact” on their education.
As the ITV report described, 35 years of teaching experience could not have prepared Michelle for the level of funding cuts her school is facing and it is something the students at Osborne recognise as well. A young boy, David, spoke to the camera and said, “I know my teachers try their best to give us as much as they can…this school is a blessing to me”, but he said he was worried about the growing workload his teachers manage and the stress they are under. Two other young girls explained how their teachers try to hide the worst impacts of the school’s budget cuts so students don’t feel bad about the lack of money the school receives.
Michelle and her pupils are the human face of the damage being done to Birmingham’s schools by deep funding cuts. The statistical evidence is stark. 361 of Birmingham’s 364 schools face their budgets being cut by 2020, a £51.4 million cut across the city, equalling an average of £293 less for every one of Birmingham’s 184,000 children. In the constituency I represent, North Birmingham Academy is set to lose £499,800 by 2020 (a £552 per pupil loss) and Stockland Green School is set to lose £372,500 by 2020 (a £503 per pupil loss).
Some of the city’s most vulnerable children are particularly at risk. On a recent visit to Castle Nursery School and Children’s Centre the staff there explained to me that the funding previously available for them to offer full time places to children with special educational needs and disabilities, children on child protection plans and children with speech and learning difficulties simply isn’t there anymore. As a result, the number of children they care for on free school meals has decreased and as Head Teacher Sally Leese explained to me, these vulnerable children still exist but aren’t getting the specialist support they need from properly funded Nursery Schools and Children’s Centres. We are in real danger of many vulnerable children falling through the cracks as budgets continue to be squeezed.
From Early Years education through to primary and secondary education, children and young people get one start in life. Their parents and teachers want the best for them. The powerful testimony of Michelle and the pupils of Osborne Primary School captured how much their school means to them. However, sadly, they are being let down by an uncaring Government that doesn’t see the pain it is causing on the frontline in our schools and classrooms. Brummies deserve better than this and it is time for the Government to heed their call and provide Birmingham’s young people with the funding their schools so desperately need.