Hundreds march for better school funding
More than 500 people have marched through the streets of Worthing to appeal to the government for fairer funding for West Sussex schools.
The march, organised by the campaign group SOS West Sussex, saw parents, children, supporters and teachers meet at Steyne Gardens on Saturday (April 21) before they made their way through the town centre to the seafront.
Organiser and local mum Mel Pickett said: “Hundreds of families from across West Sussex have come down to send a loud and clear message.
“There is a funding crisis taking hold in our schools right here, right now, and we are calling on the Government to adequately fund schools and give our children the education they deserve.”
Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, said: “I appreciate and applaud the passion of parents who joined teachers, unions and politicians at the schools’ march.
“Getting the best start in life for our kids is the most important thing as you would expect from a former children’s minister.”
With placards and banners waving and whistles blowing, the march brought traffic to a standstill as it crossed Marine Parade to the seafront.
Among the speakers was Jules White, head of Tanbridge House School, in Horsham, who has been the driving force behind the Worth Less? campaign for fairer funding.
Mr White told the crowd that schools in West Sussex received 70 per cent less funding than schools in some areas of London, adding: “I don’t want London schools to have less, I want West Sussex schools to have more.
“The school funding crisis is not a myth, it’s why we are all here.”
John Gadd, head of Thomas a Becket School, in Worthing, said: “We’ve got to continue to stand up for what’s fair and right.
“Our children’s education is being short-changed, their life chances short-changed and our country’s future short-changed.
“The number of people here today show the strength of feeling and by working together we’ll get our voices heard.”
Mr Loughton added: “This cause was actively and vociferously supported by Conservative MPs well before the SOS campaign was set up.
“We persuaded the Government to bring in a new fair funding formula for schools to deal with the arbitrary system which left West Sussex schools much worse funded than London ones especially.
“We lobbied Government for extra money and the additional £28m announced for West Sussex will help with some benefitting from double digit rises over the next two years.”
The National Funding Formula saw £1.3bn added to the country’s education budget over two years, taking it to £43.5bn by 2019/20.
But headteachers have warned schools will actually be worse off due to rising costs, including wages and pension and National Insurance contributions.
This point will be among the issues examined by a cross-party inquiry into school funding, which was launched last week.
Chaired by Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow, the education select committee will look into whether a longer-term plan for investment in education is needed.
Launching the inquiry, Mr Halfon said: “Young people are in compulsory education for around 13 years, yet Government only plans investment in education every three or four years.
“We need to move to a situation where education funding is not driven primarily by Treasury processes but rather by a long-term strategic assessment of our national priorities for education and skills.”
The inquiry was welcomed by the county’s headteachers.
Pan Panayiotou, of Worthing High, said: “A cross-party inquiry will only reveal what we as senior leaders have been saying for some time and that the funding formula is not fair by any definition and is underfunded.
“The Worth Less? campaign has been able to provide a strong platform and voice for us as headteachers and something needs to be actioned asap by government to address the shortfall in school budgets.
“Schools are having to make difficult decisions in order to balance their budgets and sadly this is leading to a narrowing of curriculum choices and redundancies in some schools.”
Mr Loughton and the other West Sussex MPs met education secretary Damian Hinds last week to discuss the funding problems faced by the county’s schools.
He said: “Whilst welcoming progress so far we made it very clear to the education secretary last week that we still need to go a lot further.
“Last summer I invited all local heads to a roundtable and asked them to provide specific examples of funding pressures on their own schools rather than national circular letters going round.
“This gives me the best ammunition when lobbying for better funding.
“Unfortunately only three schools obliged, so now I am inviting all chairs of governors to meet again to update me with some local details I can use so together we can finally get the fair deal for West Sussex children that we all want and they deserve.”