Up to a hundred parents and teachers attended a consultation on impending funding cuts to Merton schools at Hollymount Primary School.

Speakers included the head teachers of Hollymount School and Coombe Boys School, Philippa Jackson and David Smith; Leader of Merton Council, Stephen Alambritas; Carl Quilliam, Liberal Democrat candidate for Wimbledon; Rob Hatley, Chair of Governors at Hollymount and Melanie Howlett-Khera of Fair Funding for Schools.

Held the day before the General Election, on Wednesday June 7, candidates from the three main parties were invited to speak. The Conservative and Labour candidates were both unavailable, but Stephen Hammond (Conservative) sent a statement to be read.

The event was introduced by Margaret Reeve, a parent from Hollymount School and one of the members of the newly formed Merton Fair Funding for Schools. Ms Reeve emphasised that: “Although school funding is a political issue, this is not a party political event.”

Philippa Jackson, welcoming people to her school, addressed the matter of the new national funding formula: “Of course we believe in fair funding, but underfunding is not acceptable.”

She went on to detail her school of 420 pupils aged 4-11, has already been cut to the base. She said: “We can't cut further without cutting people.”

This was reiterated by Rob Hatley, Chair of the Governors at Hollymount, who explained most of the school's budget is spent on staff and since every class needs a teacher, it is most likely to be teaching assistant roles that are lost.

David Smith of Coombe Boys School, whose grounds straddle the border of Kingston and Merton boroughs, but is administered by Kingston Council, said: “Heads have been reluctant to talk about the pressures they face because they want to say how well their schools are doing.”

He said proposed cuts will threaten more expensive courses like music and technology, as will old school buildings and expensive teaching aids, such as interactive white boards, that are reaching the end of their lives and need replacing. He also voiced concern about the emotional welfare of pupils: “We are squeezing every bit of teaching time out of our staff and cuts will mean less time for pastoral support.”

Melanie Howlett-Khera from Fair Funding for Schools, a national parent-led campaign that has cross party support, said: “Education was the third most talked about issue in the 2017 election campaign. No school in the country should lose out in this new funding formula.”

Carl Quilliam of the Liberal Democrats said he had spent the last six weeks knocking on doors, and education was the issue really vexing voters. He said the Lib Dems supported the promise that no school should lose out in the new funding formula: “Whatever one's political allegiance there is no excuse for letting down the next generation.”

Merton Council Leader and Labour Councillor, Stephen Alambritas, explained London will be adversely hit by the changes to funding. He said Labour was proposing to set up a National Education Service: “Like the NHS, education should be run nationally.”

In a statement Conservative candidate Stephen Hammond pledged to continue with his representations to the Secretary of State for Education regarding schools in Merton facing funding pressures.

The statement said: “I am very pleased the Conservative Party manifesto has promised that while we will make funding fairer over the course of the parliament, we will make sure no school has its budget cut as a result of the new formula. We will increase the overall schools budget by £4 billion by 2022 representing more than a real terms increase for every year of the parliament.”

When the discussion was opened to the floor, one parent argued teachers and politicians can only go so far in opposing cuts, she urged the audience to act: “Parents have the power!”

Changes to free school meals divided the audience. The Conservatives are proposing to abolish free school meals to Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 children and replace them with free breakfasts to all primary school children and free lunches for poorer pupils. The Liberal Democrats promised to retain the current system, which was introduced in 2014.

Some teachers in the audience indicated that concentration and attainment had improved as a result of free school meals. Others felt if cuts were going to be made they would prefer free meals would go rather than teaching staff.

In December 2016, the Government announced a new national formula for schools to address "inconsistent" funding levels. The Department for Education said the current system for distributing funds across the country is "unfair" and the new plans will see more than half of England's schools receive more money.

Article by Henrietta McMicking