Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn last night joined around a thousand people at a rally over the schools funding "crisis".
Teachers, parents and campaigners were gathered at the Emmanuel Centre conference hall in Westminster following a march through the rain from Westminster Cathedral past the offices of the Department for Education.
Mr Corbyn told them that the problems facing the education system were “extremely serious”.
He said: “The number of schools that are not properly funded and the number of support staff that have lost their jobs obviously makes the job of being a teacher much, much harder.”
In reference to chancellor Philip Hammond’s £400 million “little extras” pledge (which has been widely condemned as “deeply insulting”), Mr Corbyn joked: “These little extras you’re getting for your schools – are you spending the money wisely? Has it bought you a new gate or a new computer?”
In his speech, which is available on the Tes Facebook page, Mr Corbyn called for free school meals for primary school children “right the way through all of our [primary] schools”.
'Give all primary pupils free school meals'
He said: “Thank you to all those teachers – and I know you do it all the time - who dip into your own pockets and purses in order to make sure children get something to eat – because you can see the hunger in their eyes, and their inability to learn because of their hunger. That should not be the case in this country, the sixth richest in the world.”
The march and rally were mainly organised by the NEU teaching union to send a message to Mr Hammond that he must “reverse school cuts” and increase funding for high-needs, early years and post-16 education.
Campaigners are also calling for the government to implement and fully fund the recommendations of the School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) that all teachers, not just those on the lower pay scales, should receive a 3.5 per cent pay increase.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, also speaking at the rally, said a Labour government would recognise the recommendations of the STRB and pay teachers “the money you deserve”.
She said: “But I know that pay is not what motivates you to go into schools every day and do the work that you do. I know what’s more important to you is you having the facilities and the time and respect to do your job.”
The march and rally brought together the NEU with the NAHT headteachers’ union and Unison, which represents the bulk of teaching assistant and learning mentors in the nation's schools.
It was also attended by the NEU Councillor Network, as well as groups including SEND National Crisis, Special Needs Jungle, Save Our Schools, and Fair Funding for All Schools. Other speakers included NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney and Unison’s April Ashley.
This week the NEU, the NAHT and the Association of School and College Leaders began consultations with their members over what action to take over what they have jointly described as “a schools funding crisis”.
Mr Courtney said strike action could be an option if that’s what members voted for.