Parents defend headteachers after criticism from MP

Henry Smith MP
Henry Smith MP

Parents have spoken out in support of headteachers after a West Sussex MP accused them of breaking the law in the run-up to the general election.

Schools have been campaigning for fairer funding for more than two years, with many MPs sharing their concerns in Parliament.

Onay Faiz

Onay Faiz

But Henry Smith, MP for Crawley, took to the national news last week and accused heads of attempting to influence the way parents voted. He criticised them for sending “party political messages” which he said was “both against the law and misleading”.

The accusations did not go down well with members of the parent-led Save Our Schools West Sussex campaign.

Describing headteachers as having behaved “impeccably, with extreme patience, dignity and responsible, apolitical, care”, mum-of-two Onay Faiz said: “They have merely informed us of a growing crisis.”

She added: “As parents, we have the right to know about changes that affect our children’s education – and that includes the issues of poor funding. If they’re asking us to talk to our MPs about our concerns, then why wouldn’t we? We are concerned.

Worth Less? campaign for fairer funding

Worth Less? campaign for fairer funding

“Anyone criticising our schools for telling it like it is, is fudging the real issues here.

“The problem of poor school funding is well-known amongst councillors and MPs but there’s a terrible inertia in government about resolving the problem.

“We’ve had enough of the endless buck-passing culture that this government seems to have fallen into.”

The last letter sent to parents from the Worth Less? campaign before the election was on May 19.

Save Our Schools

Save Our Schools

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.

“Robust debate on the future of education is an important and emotive subject but pretending to be impartial and then promoting a political message written by the unions using taxpayer funding on official school letterheads is both against the law and misleading.”

MPs have been vocal about the need for fairer school funding – so much so that the government went into consultation over a new National Funding Formula, which was presented as being much fairer than the current, outdated system.

Nicholas Soames MP

Nicholas Soames MP

In a letter to Justine Greening, secretary of state for education, West Sussex MPs called for amendments to be made to the new formula as the proposed funding would not be enough to meet rising costs faced by schools.

Mr Smith, who was serving as parliamentary private secretary to Ms Greening at the time, did not sign the letter. He said he has since resigned that post.

Campaigners were also concerned that pledges made in the Queen’s Speech fell short of what was needed.

Sarah Maynard, of SOS West Sussex, said: “We are hearing the usual government rhetoric of ‘record levels of spending in schools’ and ‘per pupil funding being protected’.

“But it’s absolutely meaningless when our schools are telling us that, in real cash terms, the money left for spending on pupils is drastically falling.”

Describing the funding situation as “desperate”, she added: “I heard one MP recently say ‘people put us here to deliver’. So deliver.”

Campaigner Vicki Wells, said: “We are standing by our schools because we know that they have already done all the belt-tightening they can.

“They have listened to, and gone along with, the ‘austerity’ programme – what choice – but now they are in absolute crisis.

“Children’s education is being compromised every day by lack of staff and resources. And we’re seeing our teachers pushed far beyond acceptable limits. We have been relying on teachers’ good grace for years. It’s simply not fair or realistic.”

Mrs Faiz added: “How many generations of children and teachers do we wait to see struggling in a grossly underfunded education system before things change?

“It’s unacceptable. Parents are angry – and rightly so.

“Councillors and local MPs are well aware of the problems.

“Although we’re grateful for the supportive work they’ve done so far, we are saying ‘enough is enough’. Their work so far has resulted in a non-solution. And that, to coin a school phrase, is well below expected standard.

“All that’s happening at the moment is merely a re-slicing of the same funding cake. This crisis needs additional funding put in; it needs a bigger cake!”

Government statement due 'shortly'

Mid Sussex MP Sir Nicholas Soames said the government was due to make a statement about school funding “shortly”.

Consultation on the proposed new National Funding Formula ended on March 22 and schools have been waiting since then to find out what it will offer.

Sir Nicholas, who served as Crawley MP between 1983 and 1997, was among those who called on education secretary Justine Greening to amend the formula, as the proposed funding would not be enough to meet rising costs faced by schools.

He also arranged for a debate to be held in Westminster Hall in November in which he described the funding situation as “unacceptable and wrong”.

Sir Nicholas said the government was “determined to introduce a fairer distribution of funding for schools” and that it would ensure all schools in England were “funded on a consistent and transparent basis that reflects local needs”.

He added: “The government will set out its plans shortly, and, as outlined in our manifesto, the government will make sure that no school budget is cut as a result of the new formula.”

He repeated previous pledges that schools would receive “more funding than ever before” and insisted the focus was on “sustaining and improving the rapid progress our children and young people are making under the government”.

Sir Nicholas added: “This is the biggest change to school funding for well over a decade and reflects the government’s determination to address issues of unfairness in our society, and we will have a clear, simple and transparent system that matches funding to children’s needs and the schools they attend.”

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