Our Streets, Our School.

Road closure event in Kings Heath

Who cares if there aren’t enough glue sticks?

We talk to children at Kings Heath Primary School about the pending road closure, their campaign and life at school.  

Many schools around Birmingham and the rest of the UK are closing Friday afternoons in a bid to survive the significant shortfall in government funding but what does it matter? 

For many of us, school was the best time of our life; the lack of worry; the freedom to learn and play, the friendship groups. For some, school was not such a happy time. For everyone, though, school shaped us. We would not be the adults we are now were it not for those key years.  

It’s easy to forget that in discussions about issues with schools; to get sucked into the daily practicalities of kids being at school now, but actually, when we’re debating the quality of our current education provision, we’re really debating the quality of the adults who will make up this country as we age. We’re really debating the quality of our future country. So when we complain about the schools around our cities closing down parts of their timetable because they can’t afford to stay open, this is not just about what our children are going to do on a Friday afternoon while we are at work. As inconvenient and impactful as that is, the issue is so much bigger. Robin Bevan, the headteacher talking in the very worthwhile documentary, Stop School Cuts, says, ‘You have to believe the future is going to be better than the past. It’s the pupils in our schools that are that future. They are the future leaders. They’re the future managers. They’re the future creators – the people who are going to bring about change. So that’s why it matters.’ 

Around the country the Save Our Schools (SOS) campaign attempts to address the issue. We spoke to a small group of children in Birmingham who are preparing for their street closure event next Friday.   

The problem, Donnie, aged 8, tells me, is the government. ‘They have promised the schools loads of money but it’s not getting through. On the entrance to the years 4 and 5, there’s a massive chart and if we get enough Aldi stickers and bring them in, we get like 25,000 quid, or something.’ 

‘Which won’t actually make a big difference,’ chimes in Polly, 9. ‘It’ll give the whole school resources, like pencils and rubbers. This class is very low on rubbers. We have absolutely no gluesticks.’   

The truth is, the glue sticks are just the tiny tip of the rapidly melting iceberg of resources: equipment, time, people.  

Since 2015 the average amount spent on each school pupil has fallen from £5,000/ year, to just under £4,700. The government have recognised they cannot keep on cutting but they need to do a lot more. 83% of schools will lose out next year compared to 2015. The claims that recent governments have made to be putting more into school budgets don’t actually reflect reality when you take into account the whole school budget, rising costs and pupil numbers. The reality is that schools in England will be TWO BILLION POUNDS poorer than in 2015.  

 Andrew Baisley, Learn the Truth about school Cuts  

All of the children have a sense of long term seriousness of the issue but are especially aware of the day to day effects and are quick to share the ways in which they’ve responded to cut-backs- from doodling less to save ink, coming to school in PE kits to save time, to bringing books in to share because of the lack of library resources. 

‘At the start of last year, everything was more calm,’ Lola, 10, says, ‘however, towards the end of the year it was a lot more like, come on we can’t waste time. My mum used to be a teacher in an infant school and she bought things for her classes and stuff but they didn’t have the Friday afternoons off. So I’m just thinking, if she bought a little bit of stuff for her classes, how much do the teachers actually spend on their classrooms, like the decorations but also the paper and everyday things we use.’ 

Sadly, this school far from represents the worst case. Kings Heath is an affluent area. Freya, 10, points out, ‘it’s nice to have a half day on a Friday but it’s not about the actual Friday. If it was the school saying, oh you know what, everyone’s tired on a Friday afternoon, we’ll just cut it, then that would be ok.’  

Classes are getting bigger, subject options are going down. Other activities are being reduced, staff are being made redundant. Teachers are having to pay for resources from their own pockets. Schools don’t have libraries.   

During the visit, the children are making pictures of each other to use for their posters. Marcus, the parent/volunteer supporting the group, explains,  

‘It’s giving them a chance to have their say. So much of government response is about adults telling children about their education. It may be that they will be ignored like so many other people are being ignored. It’s hard to understand the school cuts, and it is hard to know how important their voice is, but it is giving them a voice.’ 

To see what the children have been working on or to find out more, come along to their family friendly event this Friday, 13th December, from 1pm until 5pm. Poplar Road, Kings Heath B14 7AD.