Education funding fight hits Downing Street to protest ‘death by thousand cuts’

Picture courtesy of Caroline Lucas MP
Picture courtesy of Caroline Lucas MP

Comedian Steve Coogan has accused the government of slowly killing state education with ‘a death by a thousand cuts’.

Mr Coogan joined parents, teachers, children and MPs in London yesterday (July 6) to protest the ongoing crisis in education funding – and to hand over 30,000 messages of love for the country’s schools.

After delivering the messages, the group, made up of representatives from 60 schools, headed to Trafalgar Square. They sent bottles of messages – written by children from Brighton to Birmingham, West Sussex to Manchester – floating across the fountains “as a symbolic act of protest against education cuts”.

With the sun beating down and youngsters singing their own version of Message In A Bottle, by The Police, in the background, Mr Coogan spoke to reporters.

In a video published on the Save Our Schools Facebook page, he said: “I support the state education system. Over 92 per cent of people in this country use state education and this government, through the backdoor, has been slowly killing it with a death by a thousand cuts – and I’m not prepared to see that happen.

“A lot of people in this country are waking up to the fact that, through the back door, the government are trying to change the nature of education in this country to something that becomes a safety net almost, and a derogation of its responsibility.

Pictures courtesy of SOS Brighton & Hove @SaveSchoolsUK

Pictures courtesy of SOS Brighton & Hove @SaveSchoolsUK

“A lot of these cuts are having a material effect on children all over the country and the first things to be hit is the arts, is music, is sport – these areas that enhance children’s lives and actually put this country on the map throughout the world with our cultural heritage.”

Jonathan Cooper, head of St Luke’s Primary, in Queens Park Rise, told those gathered that they were all “representing the voices of thousands of children across the country”. He added: “We should measure the quality of our society by how much we care for our children, how much we love them, how much we would like to educate them and care for their futures.

“At the moment the government’s sending a clear message that it doesn’t care – and that is just scandalous, it’s shameful, it is embarrassing.

“We are the fifth largest economy in the world and we are at the moment scrabbling around for money to buy books, pencils. We should look hard at ourselves at the moment and say ‘this isn’t right, this isn’t moral’.

Pictures courtesy of SOS Brighton & Hove @SaveSchoolsUK

Pictures courtesy of SOS Brighton & Hove @SaveSchoolsUK

“We need to take a stand, we need to send a clear message that our children are something else.”

Smiling at the children who had made the trip with him, he said: “You’re something else, aren’t you? And we want to look after you and we want to make sure that you get the best possible education we can. And we’re not going to let anybody stop that.”

Among the MPs to join the campaigners were Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion), Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Lab, Brighton Kemptown) and Peter Kyle (Lab, Hove).

All three recently spoke out for headteachers who had been accused of attempting to influence the way parents voted in the run up to the general election.

Pictures courtesy of SOS Brighton & Hove @SaveSchoolsUK

Pictures courtesy of SOS Brighton & Hove @SaveSchoolsUK

Crawley MP Henry Smith took to the national news and criticised schools for sending “party political messages” which he said was “both against the law and misleading”.

The last letter sent to parents from the Worth Less? campaign before the election was on May 19. It included the line “school finances are in such a dreadful state that we believe that it is vital to urge you to raise it as a key issue prior to 8 June”.

Mr Smith, whose majority was cut from more than 6,500 to 2,457, said: “It’s unacceptable for schools to use publicly funded resources to send out party political messages of how parents should vote.”

His accusations were shouted down by Save Our Schools West Sussex, and now Brighton and Hove MPs have had their say.

Mr Kyle said: “The Tories themselves have made the issue political by taking money out of schools who are working hard and doing everything government have asked of them.

“The point of elections is to give the public the opportunity to have their say over the direction of our country and in 2017 the public overwhelming said ‘no’ to school funding cuts.

Pictures courtesy of SOS Brighton & Hove @SaveSchoolsUK

Pictures courtesy of SOS Brighton & Hove @SaveSchoolsUK

“The government now needs to listen to that message.”

Ms Lucas said: “I believe it’s perfectly right for schools to highlight to parents the constraints they are facing.

“There doesn’t seem to be any suggestion here that the school was telling people how to vote, but instead giving people the full facts about the perilous state of their funding.

“This government is cutting schools budgets to the bone and I’d suggest that Tory MPs would be better lobbying ministers on behalf of their local schools rather than trying to clampdown on their right to campaign against cuts.”

Mr Russell-Moyle said: “It is absolutely ridiculous what some of the Conservatives are claiming. It is a moral duty of public servants to tell the truth so that the public can vote according to what will happen.”

Accusing the Tories of being “angry that teachers and headteachers told the truth”, he added: “Our headteachers are brave souls that we will continue to stand up for while the Tories try and run them down and make cuts to our schools.”

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