Weymouth & Portland – our children’s education is set to get far worse

Parliament voted to remove free school meals for a million children on the 13th March. While the media was alight with the spy scandal, a vote went through that will result in some kids never being able to get a decent meal throughout the year.

Why does this matter? Hungry pupils are disruptive pupils and our already poor education standards in Weymouth & Portland are set to get far worse as a result. This doesn’t just matter to parents who are already on the breadline but everyone who sends their child to a state school across the borough.

Let’s break this argument down into bite sized chunks.

Parliament votes to take away only hot meal from a million kids

By 312 voted to 254, last week Parliament voted that “English families on universal credit will see the income threshold for free school meals slashed to £7,400 a year.” The plans were ready to slip through as a Statutory Instrument unchallenged but Labour stood up to it. The Conservative Party put a Three Line Whip on it and brought in the DUP. Needless to say Mr Richard Drax followed the party line, as did neighbouring Oliver Letwin.

Here at WeyPAW we don’t mind just how you vote – we are just stating that the MPs in question voted for children not to have free school meals. According to the Huffington Post, “Charities and other campaigners claim that the welfare reforms mean that up to a million children will be denied eligibility for free lunches.” It is estimated that 12,500 of those children will be from Dorset – including the Shire and the conurbation.

Education in the borough is already very poor

As a full time writer I am not about to criticise teachers. Only those without any idea about state school teaching criticise teachers for their ‘long holidays’ and ‘short weekdays’. I have a friend whom I wonder whether she will live to retirement age – she has had senior teaching roles which have frankly nearly killed her with stress. 60 hour weeks and maybe a half day off on Sunday are typical.

Fewer than half of children from the borough will get 5 good GCSEs aged 16. GCSE pass rate statistics from the school year 2015-16 in Weymouth and Portland are abysmal. The national average pass rate is 57.8% while the worst local education authority has a 44.8% pass rate. Weymouth & Portland sits at 47.5%.

Could hunger play a role?

In January 2016 the Guardian newspaper reported the results of a national survey of teachers across the UK. Half of them said that pupils came to school hungry 3-4 times a week. The article stated, “Hungry pupils were more likely to be lethargic and unable to concentrate, the teachers reported, and half the teachers said they were also more likely to be disruptive. A majority agreed that hungry pupils caused problems for other children in their classroom and needed more attention.”

One bad apple

From https://apps.geowessex.com/stats/Topics/Topic/Deprivation

You may be one of the majority of parents who bring up their children well. You may be on a middle income, and own your own tidy home. You are not exempted from this problem. It only takes one or two children in a class of 30 to screw up everyone’s education.

Here’s another report: TES teachers’ magazine stated that in 2014, “Pupils are missing out on 38 days of teaching each year due to low-level disruptive behaviour in the classroom, according to a new Ofsted report.”

The TES report continued, “The watchdog claims that students typically lose an hour of learning each day, due to teachers dealing with misbehaviour such as swinging on chairs, passing notes round and using mobile phones.” Many of these kids will be unable to concentrate for a variety of reasons including hunger.

So, those children from good households and ‘hardworking parents’ were having 38 days a year of education lost to disruptive pupils. What’s going to happen when every class has a starving pupil who can’t concentrate because they don’t get enough food to eat?

The answer is that every single child of school age is going to be affected by the free school meal issue.

Other factors – cuts

You cannot dodge the issue of resources being squeezed in the state school system. Our schools are at breaking point due to the government Austerity programme.

In May last year the Dorset Echo reported, “Mike Foley, headteacher of Thomas Hardye school in Dorchester, warned that schools could see an eight per cent budget cut by 2019/20. He said: “Like everyone else at the moment, we are making cuts and not replacing staff as they are leaving. Year on year we are having to reduce the amount of teachers, which is true of almost every school. In Dorset we are one of the worst funded areas in the country. The budget is being reduced by eight percent, which means we would need to lose 20 teachers by 2020.”

Fewer teachers mean bigger class sizes, less one on one time with pupils and greater difficulty in dealing with issues as they arise in the classroom.

Pupil referral units?

You cannot blame a child for their parents being too broke to feed them properly due to extreme poverty. Poverty doesn’t just choose the thick bully in the class – it affects people at random and the child who has real brains could be forced onto the dungheap of life perhaps due to their parents only able to get seasonal work or zero hours contracts after redundancy. Other kids will work extremely hard at their education but will have to care for their parents – can you blame a kid for having a disabled parent and looking after them from 5 in the morning until school time and then all evening after? Perhaps their mother had a stroke giving birth to them – can you blame the mother for having a stroke at childbirth and then being incapacitated for life? Can you blame a child for their parents taking a wrong turn in life due to the pain they felt themselves as children?

It is without doubt that in an ideal world the troubled child should have extra support. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are so overstretched they can barely be called a service. Pupil Referral Units are at the edge of their capacity. Teaching Assistants are now as rare as hen’s teeth due to cuts. Whatever caused the problem, if you fall these days you’ll be lucky to get caught in a safety net.

Deprivation in Weymouth & Portland

From https://psnc.org.uk/dorset-lpc/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2017/07/Health-Profiles-2017-WP.pdf

Weymouth & Portland – Action on Wages was set up because we have the lowest average income across the UK in any local authority. We aren’t just living in an area where people get bad wages. There are huge problems here.

According to the statistics website GeoWessex “There are twelve areas (out of a total of 249) in Dorset within the top 20% most deprived nationally for multiple deprivation, down from 13 in 20101. Nine of these are within the urban borough of Weymouth and Portland.” The suicide rate is among the highest in the UK. Drug abuse is sky high, and crime associated with drug and alcohol abuse is unacceptably high. Family problems associated with drugs, alcohol, mental health and worklessness issues lead to what are broken communities.

“What can I do about it?”

We hope that’s what you’re saying now. WeyPAW will be having a public meeting on Saturday 21stApril to discuss the issue locally and nationally. Like our Facebook Page to keep up to date with the details. You can also call your MP Richard Drax to discuss why he voted to lower the threshold. I’m sure he’d be more than happy to discuss the issue – we have invited him to the meeting!