Sarah J

I started teaching 10 years ago in an inner-city school in the middle of a housing estate and opposite an industrial estate. Our children have serious deprivation, socially and economically. Many come from single parent families or are ‘looked after’ children. We’ve really struggled with the budget cuts to provide for them at school; we find ourselves personally buying shoes, clothes and breakfast for these children. Quite often my husband and I spend our weekends buying jumpers or coats because we know that these kids don’t have them. The children come to school with no soles on their shoes or no coats in the winter. We’ve given them items to go home with and then they’ve not come back, and we’ve found out they’ve been sold on at the pub. This is a seriously deprived area. This level of poverty has been a shock to me, we’ve had lots of staff that leave because they can’t cope with the kids’ issues. We are expected to get them at the same level as every other school, but how can you compare? Some of our children wake up their alcoholic parents and make sure they’re all right before they get to school, and when they are late, they get fines, which of course can’t be paid. How can you compare this to affluent areas where children are being looked after, given breakfast, clothes and taken to school on time? It feels like these children are being punished for something that’s not their fault. And it is a punishment, when they go to secondary school, they get put in the lower groups straight away and just written off. There is no reason our kids can’t achieve; some of them are so creative and they know more than the adults when it comes to practical things. The system doesn’t look at where they start from, it just looks at where they are now; and this doesn’t work with children because the start they get is so important. If they don’t get nurtured, they are behind from before they even start. It’s totally unfair.

Generation after generation are being failed because we are not allowed to teach them in any different ways. I could tell you which of the children won’t ever do well academically, but these children can cook and clean, they can fix bikes and engines. These topics are off the curriculum, but this is how we keep them interested in coming into school every day. The curriculum is too narrow, even for every day mainstream kids, it’s very limited. You get your teaching degree and feel like you’ve got a world of opportunities ahead of you, but actually you are told you have to teach this, and you have to teach it in a certain way. The first test they sit at age five is a phonics screen, reading alien words. I’m not sure what skill that tests, we have autistic kids who can read beautifully but they don’t want to read alien words because they’re not real, so then they fail. How can we honestly say a five-year-old is a failure?

The rigorous assessments are far too prescriptive; schools are terrified to do anything creative because it’s not going to be assessed. It’s all about getting reading, writing and maths data up, which is fair enough, but it’s gone too far. Art is now a treat, it shouldn’t be a treat, it is part of the curriculum. The books at our school are so old, but funding cuts makes it impossible for us. There’s no such thing as fundraising in this area. At Christmas myself and the staff decided to give to the local food bank instead of doing secret Santa. When I went to donate, I saw loads of the parents there. These kids are the warmest, nicest kids; there is a strong community spirit here, even with the social problems, alcohol and drug issues, they are still doing their best.

I want the government to come in and see our school. Come and speak to the children and the parents. Don’t just send someone from Ofsted. I challenge the Department for Education to come to our school and tell me their system works.

To the parents I want to say, ‘I know’. We know your children are under pressure, they are coming home anxious and worried about coming into school. So are we. I’d like to see the parents and teachers working together and signing the petitions, joining forces. It’s not fair for any of us.

See if your school has had funding cuts here:

Sign the petition to stop the funding cuts here:

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Names have been changed and stock image is used