A group of teenagers has asked the schools minister to face them and explain why their education was worth less than those living elsewhere in the country.
Ed Baker, Harry Triggs, Jasmine Small, Jess Morton, Joe Reavey, Kieran Quinlan, Libby Clegg, Peter Reavey and Theveenah Balasubrananium wrote to Nick Gibb, MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, inviting him to meet them.
It’s an invitation Mr Gibb appears to have accepted.
The youngsters, who attend Felpham Community College, The Regis School and The Littlehampton Academy, decided to speak up after watching their headteachers – and those all over the county – fight a losing battle to balance their budgets in the face of ever-increasing costs.
Speaking on behalf of the group, Peter Reavey, 15, who attends Felpham, said the ongoing funding crisis was having a ‘huge impact on all the schools in Littlehampton and Bognor Regis’.
He added: “Our headteachers are doing a fantastic job keeping the schools going and keeping us learning. But now money is getting really, really desperate and there is no end in sight.
“As students in local schools, we need to get our voices heard too, especially as we are in the constituency of the education minister.”
Their letter to Mr Gibb opened with a very simple question: “Why are school students in Bognor Regis and Littlehampton – and the rest of West Sussex – worth less than school students nearly everywhere else in England?”
It’s a question they hope he will answer on March 24 when he will be in his constituency rather than his London office.
But there could be a problem. In their letter, Peter and the others told the minister: “Our parents, grandparents and many other supporters of schools in your constituency want to hear and understand your answer too, so that’s why we asked for them to be present.”
A response from Mr Gibb’s senior parliamentary assistant, though, suggested he wasn’t so keen on too many adults being present.
She wrote: “His understanding then was that this was an opportunity for students only and this remains the requirement for the meeting going ahead.
“If parents or others would like to meet with Mr Gibb, they are welcome to ask for individual appointments at one of his surgeries.
“Alternatively, they could consider organising a mass lobby at the House of Commons, subject to Parliamentary lobby procedures.”
While Peter said the conditions applied by Mr Gibb were ‘disappointing’, neither he nor his friends showed any sign of being deterred.
They have already responded to Mr Gibb, stating: “We are disappointed that you are now only willing to meet us in a school environment, with a teacher present and to discuss the new funding formula. This is not why we wanted to meet. It is not a school project – our approach to you was started and is led by school students from schools across your constituency, not just one school, and is independent of the schools and teachers.”
They are awaiting a response.
Felpham headteacher Mark Anstiss said: “I am delighted that some of our students have taken it upon themselves to get involved with the funding campaign for West Sussex schools.
“This new action was devised and planned entirely by students, supported by a few parents, without any input from the school staff.
“We encourage our young people to engage with the democratic process and this is an example of them taking the initiative.
“We will now watch with interest for a response from our politicians and will try to support the students where we can.”
Margaret Simmons, mother of Peter and Joe, said she was very proud of the actions of her sons and the other students.
She added: “They really only have one shot at their education - it is very hard to play catch up later - so it should be as good as it can be and certainly equal to what their peers are receiving in other parts of the country.
“I believe my sons’ school is providing a good standard of education despite having more constraints on its budget than other schools in the UK but there comes a point when the budget will only stretch so far before it breaks and that time is probably going to come in the next few months.”
Ms Simmons continued: “They are all learning a very valuable lesson in how democracy works and that young people are willing to give their free time to help themselves and others, instead of sitting back and moaning about how unfair it all is.
“I hope that when the message comes directly from the students themselves it will have a greater impact with the ministers as the ministers will have to look directly into their faces and explain why their education is of less value than that of other children in the country.
“The students are definitely not going to make it easy for them.”
Mr Gibb was approached for comment.
The letter in full:
Dear Mr Gibb
Why are we Worth Less?
Why are school students in Bognor Regis and Littlehampton – and the rest of West Sussex – worth less than school students nearly everywhere else in England?
You know that our schools get £400 per child per year less than the average for England outside London. In other words, West Sussex schools get £20 million a year less than average.
Our head teachers are doing a fantastic job. They have become experts at saving money at the same time as delivering a really good education. Teachers and students have got used to bigger classes, leaking roofs and broken computers that won’t be replaced - and somehow we still learn.
But now it is getting really, really desperate. Our head teachers have tried to warn you about the increasing risks to our education into the future. Now it is our turn as school students to support their “WorthLess?” campaign. We don’t want to start a different campaign. We just need our head teachers to be taken seriously.
At the moment our schools are deciding on their budgets for next year. Every school we have talked to in Bognor Regis and Littlehampton has plans that are terrifying to us as school students. For example, there are plans to
Drop essential subjects from the curriculum
Not replace teachers
Remove support staff who enable students with special needs and disabilities to thrive at school
Reduce counselling and pastoral support
Increase class sizes
Send some classes home at lunch time because there will not be enough teachers
We know that the new funding formula could make things fairer eventually – but it will be years before funding for West Sussex schools matches other parts of the country. Many of us will have left school by then! If you recognise there is a really serious problem, why not fill the funding gap now?
Even with the new funding formula, our schools will probably have no more money to spend anyway, because of the new rules making them pay extra costs towards National Insurance, pensions and some other costs. And West Sussex will stay as one of the worst funded areas - 148th out of 151.
So please can you explain to us why we continue to be Worth Less?
Your constituency office has told us that you are in the constituency on Friday 24th March, so please can we – and other students from Bognor Regis and Littlehampton schools – meet you at 3pm that day? Please will you look us straight in the eye and explain why we are Worth Less?
We anticipate that there will be a lot of us – with families and other supporters too – so we hope you will agree to meet in a large public space so everyone can see and hear. So you can see how real this is, some of us will bring our own examples of how the unfair funding is affecting us as school students.
We look forward to meeting you.
Peter, Ed, Harry, Jasmine, Jess, Joe, Kieran, Liberty, Theveenah
School students in Bognor Regis & Littlehampton constituency
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