Thursday, 9 Jul 2020

Closing schools early on Fridays 'will hit the poorest the hardest'

Labour MP Jess Phillips has warned cash strapped schools being forced to close early on Fridays will widen the gap between poor and well-off families.

She left her son on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street to do maths homework today in protests against school funding cuts.

Ms Phillips says 250 UK schools have resorted to sending pupils home at lunchtime on Friday in the past year so under-resourced teachers can plan how to manage their time.

She says more and more schools will have to do the same as they struggle to keep up with rising costs and fewer members of staff.

Ms Phillips marched alongside the Save Our Schools campaign group today, after crowdfunding nearly £10,500 to take children to Downing Street to demonstrate.

Hundreds of parents, children and teachers from across the country amassed outside Westminster today demanding better school funding.

It wasn’t the first protest attended by her 10-year-old son Danny but he was still ‘slightly overwhelmed’ by the attention he received.

Ms Phillips told ‘I tend to keep my children out of the limelight because as a politician I don’t want them getting grief, but it’s his school and he wanted to stand up for it.’

When asked if Danny wanted to be a politician when he grows up, Ms Phillips said his dream is to be a ‘Lego architect’.

In September, his school is set to join the growing number of schools which can no longer offer five full days a week of education.

Ms Phillips warned this will create all sorts of childcare issues for parents, particularly ones who struggle to make ends meet.

The MP for Birmingham Yardley said one of the mothers at today’s protest will have to give up hours at work and lose money as a result, in order to pick up her child from school.

She added: ‘My son will be alright because I will pay the extra money for him to go to drama or music or for some stimulation in the afternoon because I can afford it.

‘What about the other families? What will happen in my son’s school is that the affluent kids will probably be alright.’

She said there are now some schools which provide 20 hours more education per month than others.

‘The students who will fall behind will be the ones who most benefit from universal education, five days a week,’ she added.

Ms Phillips challenged the government’s assertion they have boosted per pupil funding, arguing they have not taken rising inflation, the apprenticeship levy and pension contributions into account.

She added: ‘The government seems to be blaming the headteacher of my son’s school like she can’t manage a budget.

‘She’s already cut down her teaching staff, she’s already cut down on her senior management.

‘We’ve done fundraisers every bloody week just to fund things like pens, books and paper.’

Ms Phillips said it would take £3 billion to make up for the money lost by schools in England over the past five years and £1.2 billion a year till 2023 to plug the current funding gap.

She pointed out that Conservative Party leadership front-runner Boris Johnson has already promised almost £10 billion in tax cuts for higher earners.

She added: ‘To be talking about tax cuts when more children can’t go to school is insensitive and profligate.’

A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘The funding for an average primary class of 28 in Birmingham is £125,000 – above the national average of £115,000 for an equivalent sized class. These amounts are to cover a full five-day week in term time.’

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