With school cuts and early closures across the country, 16-year-old student Aliyah York was prompted to do something. Here, she explains why (and what you can do to help)
The UK prides itself on being one of the most globally advanced academic societies: a place of prosperity, innovation and social equality.
But imagine for a moment an education system where going to school could mean being squeezed into a classroom of over 40 students, where schools struggle to keep teaching staff due to cost pressures, where the quality of your education could be dependant on your parent’s income. This is the reality that I and over 10 million other pupils across the UK face.
A total of 17,723 schools have suffered funding cuts. In one of the most globalised economies, in a place viewed as one of the ‘most powerful’, education is so undervalued that over the past nine years, 91% of schools have had their per-pupil funding cut, losing an average of £2.8bn from school budgets since 2015.
The truth is, funding cuts are making it impossible for our teachers to deliver a proper education and children are at a disadvantage.
All schools are struggling; there are no exceptions. Yes, to what extent varies but the impact is the same and the recipients of this fall out are “us” the students.
Across my years at secondary school, ‘cuts’ meant a lack of basic resources. During GCSEs I remember scrambling for two textbooks that had to be shared between the entire class. Teachers would often buy resources themselves, out of their own pockets, to replace anything from glue sticks to pens and whiteboard markers.
For me, funding cuts meant having to fight to keep my music lessons. I had no other option than to write a letter to my music department to persuade them to keep my drumming lessons as I expressed the personal value and importance in learning a new skill each week.
For me, funding cuts meant GCSE Media being torn away from me as an option. The subject that supported my passion was no longer available because ‘we no longer had specialised staff to teach the curriculum.’
In total, 71 out of a total of 82 schools in Newham are suffering and mine is just one. Valuable teachers are being made redundant. 70% of school buildings are unsafe because of roof leakages, crumbling walls and damp. And even worse, over 200 schools in England are cutting short the school week because they cannot afford to educate their pupils for a full five days. This could mean losing on average 365,192 lessons in one year across the country.
Every term, leaders make difficult budget decisions as pressures rise. What do we expect them to prioritise? Making buildings safer or squeezing more children into classrooms? With an estimated figure of more than 2,000 additional pupils than primary school places by 2022 (according to the Local Government Association) we can only imagine the sacrifices that will prevent children from discovering their ambitions.
We experience these consequences, yet still, so many pupils remain oblivious. It may be our reality today but it doesn’t have to be tomorrow’s. We deserve better. Until schools are funded properly, we will not rest!
So in June 2019, I passed through the huge doors of Westminster Hall for the NEU ‘Together for Education’ conference. Me, a 16-year-old among a room full of adults: teachers, parents, councillors, politicians and campaigners. My mouth seemed to be fixed permanently in an ‘o’ shape, aghast and utterly flabbergasted by the stories, speeches and presentations shared about the horrific state of our schools. I was prompted to take action.
Pupil Power was born: a platform where pupils can share their stories about the impact of cuts in the classroom, and hopefully, be inspired to join me on my mission to shift this nightmare into a happier ending for our schools.
Awareness, Advocacy and Action!
The campaign is providing #PupilPower ToolKits to schools to educate and engage young people on the dire situation in our classrooms. Enough is enough. We can no longer sweep issues of such gravity under the carpet, instead, we are raising them to the surface, encouraging the discussion and finally, moving forward towards making tangible changes. It is our economy and future that is at stake and nothing is more important.
How can you get involved?
It’s simple. You are part of the solution!
A driving force, using all voices to expose the plight facing our schools. All schools! (Early years, primary, secondary, SEND and post 16 schools), our campaign is calling for those of all ages to join us as we take a stance against this social injustice. Whether you request a toolkit, share your experiences or follow us to keep updated, you are joining a movement that is challenging the system and proving that the power is truly in the hands of the pupils, parents and people!
Use the hashtag #PupilPower to share your pictures, thoughts and experiences, or email ThePupilPowercampaign@outlook.com for your own Pupil Power toolkit.
Twitter: @ThePupilPower @aliyahiyork
Instagram: @ThePupilPower @aliyahyork
Pass the Mic is an occasional series where we hand the Mother Pukka platform over to other voices to share their perspective. Each piece is edited as lightly as possible and contributors are paid.