‘It’s unfair and unkind’: Hundreds of children and parents march on Westminster over shorter school weeks amid funding cuts
Labour MP Jess Phillips left her 10-year-old outside Downing Street as part of demonstration
Young demonstrators waved placards saying “We’re the future, don’t cut us short” and “Make the future bright, stop being so tight”.
The protesters marched from Parliament Square to Downing Street, where Labour MP Jess Phillips left her son outside Theresa May’s residence as part of a protest against cuts which have forced schools to adopt a four-and-a-half-day week.
Children affected are missing out on hours of education and families are having to fork out hundreds of pounds more a year on childcare, with poorer families being hit the hardest, parents said.
Ms Phillips, whose 10-year-old is at one of the schools in Birmingham that is having to close early amid tight budgets, led the march of nearly 400 parents and children.
Parent-led campaign group Save Our Schools say more than 250 schools across the country are either part-time or are going part-time in September because of funding cuts.
The Birmingham MP said: “The reality is this is affecting people all across the country.
“It is no surprise to me at all that parents want their children in school for five days a week for their own livelihoods and for the future of their children.”
Speaking to The Independent, she added: “I have friends who are having to reduce their shifts, which will reduce their income, and people are having to give up their jobs on a Friday. For poorer communities, it is going to have a terrible effect.”
Her 10-year-old son Danny asked: "Why are we one of the richest countries in the world and yet we cannot afford to have children in school?"
Children at the gates of Downing Street used a microphone to say lunchtime closures on Fridays were “unfair” and “not kind” after joining in with songs and chants calling for five full school days.
Parents from across the country, including Birmingham, Leicester and Wiltshire, took their children out of school to demonstrate. Some held placards that read “Austerity is older than our children”.
It comes after Ms Phillips launched a crowdfunding page, which raised nearly £10,500, to bus children affected by shorter school weeks to Downing Street to take part in the protest.
Speaking on Friday afternoon, Ms Philips added: “This is a part of citizenship education. I am delighted that my children, and the children in my community, are here learning that we don’t just let people with power walk all over us. We have a voice and we will use it.”
Mary Ellen Flynn, whose sons attend Kings Heath Primary School in Birmingham, which is one of the schools having to close its doors early on Fridays from September, said: “They are losing learning time and I am having to lose part of my home budget to pay for it as well.”
The mother-of-two, who is also a special educational needs teacher at a different school, will have to fork out £20 more a week on childcare.
She added: “The headteacher has cut the budget down to the bone. She has cut everything she can. They are no longer buying new books. They just recycle them.”
Alison Ali, co-founder of the national Save Our Schools campaign, said: “The impact on parents runs from massive inconvenience of having to arrange childcare to really horrendous impacts on already stretched pockets if they having to pay for childcare.”
She said: “Schools have already cut subjects, they have already cancelled building repairs, and they have already lost teaching staff. There is nothing left to cut other than school hours. It is that bad.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Parents are right to be concerned about the inadequacy of education funding and the impact that this dire situation is having on schools.
“We support them in their calls for an urgent improvement in the level of funding. The government must invest more in the future of our children and young people.”
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.”