Severe school funding cuts are leaving more pupils with special educational needs (SEN) and mental health problems in danger, children have directly told MPs.
Children as young as five from across England went to Parliament to tell and sing their stories about the impact of swingeing budget cuts on their ability to learn and to be supported in school.
Michael, from Greenwich in London, who has autism, warned MPs: “We do not have enough books, SEN equipment or enough staff to look after us and keep us safe.”
The 10-year-old was out of school for nearly a year after he was bullied, and there was a lack of staff and resources to help. “We deserve the same chances and the same opportunities and we do not have these due to the cuts to our funding in our schools,” he said in his speech
Elodie, from Nottinghamshire, said she almost missed out on sitting her GCSEs after her mental health deteriorated and she stayed at home. Her school had not found her time with a counsellor.
The 17-year-old, who suffered from anxiety, said: “There was one counsellor. One which I wasn’t allowed to see as she was stretched as it was and my needs weren’t dire enough. I had been trying to be seen since year 8, just 13-years-old, but I hadn’t tried to hang myself or taken a blade to my wrist – like many of my peers – so my needs weren’t urgent enough to be seen.”
MPs were told how pupils in one school were left heartbroken last summer when two-thirds of their teaching assistants and support staff had to be made redundant following cuts to budgets.
Eliana, eight, from Brighton, said: "Those were wonderful people who did a great job of looking after us. When we heard the news in assembly we were so sad we cried our eyes out. We were told the school could no longer afford to pay them because of the cuts to their budget."
Schoolchildren, dressed in t-shirts emblazoned with statistics about underfunding, sang songs, displayed artwork, posters and paperweights to appeal to the Government for more funds.
The pupils spoke about learning in crumbling school buildings, with out-of-date science textbooks and broken computers with limited Internet connection, amid squeezed school budgets.
Indie, 12, from London, told The Independent: “When it rains we usually have leaks all around the school which are slipping hazards. We don't have money to repair the holes in the roof. The panels are falling off the outside of the school, which could be a hazard too as they could fall on our heads.”
In a speech to MPs, she added: “There’s no room for lockers and the school can’t afford to buy them anyway so we have to carry all our books and PE kit and coats with us everywhere we go.”
The group of youngsters, aged five to 17, also raised their concerns about the social inequality created by a reliance on parent donations and a loss of non-core subjects from the curriculum.
Harry, 8, from Hitchin, said parents are increasingly propping up budgets, paying for broken equipment and volunteering to do the gardening as schools do not have the funding anymore.
He added: "Our school has lots of children who come from quite poor families and their parents can’t afford to send them to music and sports lessons because they’re really expensive.”
The group of 60 children and parents attended a cross-party panel of MPs in Westminster - which was organised by parent group Save Our Schools UK (SOS), in conjunction with other parent groups.
Speaking from Parliament Square, Alison Ali, co-founder of the SOS campaign, said: “It is the first time [children] have literally brought their stories to Westminster.
“We can see with our own eyes the stranglehold that the funding crisis is having on our schools.”
Liberal Democrat Layla Moran, Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who hosted the parliamentary briefing, were joined by more than 40 MPs.
Ms Moran, education spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, told The Independent: “It is clear that the kids are now beginning to see not just the stress that their teachers are feeling but also they are saying they are just not getting the same resources as older siblings.”
On the rising number of schools asking for parental contributions, she added: “That is inherently unfair because it is often the parents from wealthier areas that can afford to give to the school, but a school in a poorer catchment area they just don’t get the same level of funding.
“It is almost privatisation by the backdoor because without the funding the schools cannot buy basics like books and pencils. And some have even approached food banks to pay for school breakfasts and school lunches.”
The parent-led event comes less than two weeks after thousands of headteachers took unprecedented action and marched on Downing Street to demand more school funding.
Since then, the government has been accused of misleading the public with statistics used to defend the levels of spending on education – despite the IFS warning of a decline in real-terms funding.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want every child to have a high quality education and since 2010 the proportion of pupils in good or outstanding schools has risen.
"We are investing in our schools; our new National Funding Formula is allocating more money for each school to every local authority; the independent IFS confirmed that funding for 5-16 year olds has been maintained across this year and next.
“The most recent volume of the OECD’s Education at a Glance report said in 2015 among G7 nations, the UK government spent the highest percentage of GDP on institutions delivering primary and secondary education.
"We recognise that there is more pressure on schools to do more, which is why we have taken a number of steps to help them get the best value for every pound. Our government-backed deals are helping schools save money on things like utility bills and other non-staff spend."