As part of an exploratory study of the effects of government cuts to education in primary schools in Leeds North West, I commissioned a survey of parent experiences. The results were alarming but not necessarily wholly surprising. 90.37% of respondents feel that their child’s school has been negatively affected by cuts, with 91.11% saying that they are concerned that such cuts will affect their child’s education.
Many respondents were keen to show appreciation for the “dedicated” teachers and staff at their local schools, who “do a great job under the circumstances.” However, many parents acknowledge that the situation is “unsustainable” and worry that such passionate and inspirational staff that are currently straining to provide a satisfactory level of service will “begin to crumble under the pressure.” One parent empathised, “I feel for the teaching staff- they deliver the same quality education but on less and less- so stressful for them.”
One respondent writes “I am furious with the Tory government for the lack of value they place on our children’s education, well-being and future. I believe that there will be long term implications to the drastic and irresponsible cuts to education.” Of these long-term implications, one great concern drives straight at the heart of the Conservatives pledge to reduce the advantage gap that children still experience on account of the socio-economic background of their parent(s). This gap is widening because of decreasing school funding.
For other parents at some schools there is a concern about a lack of after school clubs for their children, acknowledging that teachers are often too busy or overworked to run them. This puts extra strains on families who understand the importance of trying to provide their children with the broader experiences and opportunities for growth that are highly consequential for a child’s development.
Whilst wealthier parents can directly fund their child to learn an instrument or membership of a sports club, for example, removing these opportunities from those who cannot afford to, risks widening the advantage gap between the children of the haves and have nots. Some parents report being now charged for their children to attend such things as choir practice, that the parents had come to expect from their own time at school to be a free-participatory event, important for fostering opportunities in later life. Also worth noting is that many parents have traditionally relied on such after school clubs to provide a place for their child to await safely to be picked up from school as the parents finish work. Eradicating these clubs therefore may place extra child care pressures on families.
One respondent sums up the situation succinctly, “As parent and teacher I firmly believe the quality of education we are providing this generation is dire. Between funding cuts, inaccessible exams, no support for SEN or EAL, no trips, extra circular activities being squeezed etc etc. I see a generation being told they are failures because we are not providing the funding or resources to help anyone except the most well adapted and able pupils achieve. We are a laughing stock at best. Shame on this government for letting it get to this.”
But is is not just extra- curricular activity costs that are increasingly being levied against parents. Some schools, such as Shire Oak rely on parents to financially contribute to needed improvements. There are reports that PTA’s have been fundraising for equipment in classrooms. Parents at one school report concerns that cuts mean that the school’s management is more concerned with balancing an unsustainable budget than about how to best teach our children. 62.96% of respondents have noted that teaching assistants have been cut from their child’s schools and 46.6% have noticed that their school is unable to replace outdated and/or broken equipment. Perhaps even more worrying 46.6% of parents are aware that cuts have created maintenance and cleanliness issues in their child’s school.
One parent who is also a teacher at an inner-city school, describes the situation in simple terms, “The impact of the cuts is devastating.” While many parents are now aware that schools are being pressured into devoting time and effort merely to juggle scant resources, there is an understanding that schools are “now at the point where there is nothing more to cut.” At the same time many parents are angry at about the process of academisation, with one parent describing a widely held view that, “Academies unnecessarily take money out of education, profits for shareholders has no place in education.”
One retired primary school teacher of 40 years decries a school curriculum that is “narrow, dry and unexciting.” When it should be filled with the excitement of learning. The retiree goes on to say “It has robbed a whole generation of young children of their precious early education and makes me angry and sad for them.” The lack of funding for equipment such as musical or art equipment is encouraging this dry focus on “core” skills, note parents, to the detriment of their children’s educational experiences and the prospects for them developing as well-rounded and creative individuals.
A major area of concern shared by many parents is the disproportionately diminished funding available to provide Special Educational Needs (SEN) children with adequate support and equipment. Many respondents decry the lack of places open in specialist schools which, in conjunction with cuts to provisions for SEN in mainstream schools, means that parents are worried that they may never be able to get the appropriate educational support their child needs. One parent of a child with high-functioning autism, feel this worry acutely, “We need specialist provision for children with high functioning autism. If things don’t work out for my daughter in mainstream there is no suitable provision for her that will enable her to meet her abilities.” One respondent reports talking to many parents who were “at their wits end” about where and how to get the right support for their children. Another critical failure identified by parents is “the complete lack of adequate mental health provision” for children in primary schools. We might wonder how a government might claim to be improving education standards whilst failing to provide the barest of services that many children desperately require.
The cuts to support for the most vulnerable children have knock on effects that combine with cuts to the wider social and psychological support available to individuals and families, such as cuts to mental health and youth services in general. School cuts are not the only issue facing parents and should be seen in conjunction with the effects of wider cuts. One parent for example, reports taking to a group of young Muslim mothers who indicated that the demise of Sure Start programs meant that they no longer had anywhere to go to “share the challenges and burdens of parenting.” A nuanced understanding of how school cuts connect with wider cuts to social programs, is important to reveal the various stresses that austerity has created for families, as well as to understand how and why schools are increasingly being put under the strain of trying providing services previously outside of their purview.
Funding cuts to education may prove a difficult matter for the youngest generation to forgive as they grow older, diminished in their potential, their opportunities and their confidences. But the evidence from this survey shows conclusively that parents are aware of the negative effect of cuts and want to to see another way offered. 93.28% of parents say that ahead of a new general election, the issue of school funding was likely to influence their vote. Cuts to staff, educational support services, equipment, cleanliness and maintenance, after-school clubs and school trips, are hollowing out primary education in Leeds North West. Children are not just left with the bare minimum of an education, they are left with an inadequate one, which promises to have knock on effects for both their futures and the wider societies. Even the most ardent and fiscally conservative Tory must be aware that the cost to the public purse of the loss of revenue generated by reduced educational attainment, will be far from inconsequential. As will be the social cost of failing in the historical promise that has long linked the old to the young, that will things will get better, that the future will be brighter and that we pass on the promise of more than we had ourselves.
For full survey results please see: full survey results