School top-up schemes: are other parents being asked to make regular financial contributions to schools?

Jane Middleton's picture
 48
Michael Gove says he wants to make state schools indistinguishable from the independents. Some state schools are already attempting to blur the lines by putting pressure on parents to make regular payments to a 'top-up scheme'.

My son and daughter attend state schools in Bath (both of which have converted to academy status) and I recently received letters from them asking me to set up a direct debit to this effect. Here is an extract from the letter from my son's school, Beechen Cliff:

'We feel that the opportunities provided for the pupils at Beechen Cliff, both academic and in the broader life of the school are on a par with any school, both independent and state. Despite the bleak governmental funding future we want to keep this and where possible improve upon it. This will only be possible with help and support. Independent school fees are normally over £10,000 a year per pupil. At Beechen Cliff education is free but, if parents are willing to give a fraction of that money, we could achieve so much more.'

'We are asking ALL families for a voluntary contribution of £30, £20 or £10 per month to the new Top-up Scheme. We believe that this isn't a great sum to contribute towards a child's education. Of course we appreciate that some parents do not have the resources to contribute. Thankfully there are some generous parents who are already contributing significantly. If you are already supporting then we are of course most grateful but please review your contribution.'

This concerns me greatly for the following reasons:

1. It introduces the idea of parents contributing financially to state schools on a regular basis with the aim of it becoming the norm. This undermines our state school system in much the same way that changes to the NHS are chipping away at the idea of a free health service.

2. It is putting financial and moral pressure on parents at a time when many are struggling.

3. It ignores the fact that we already pay for state schooling through our taxes.

Anthony Seldon, head of Wellington School, has recently proposed that wealthier parents should pay for state education (they already do - through taxation!). We are in danger of losing the principle of education being free at the point of delivery. We are also at risk of developing a two-tier state education system, with plenty of parent-funded resources for schools in affluent areas, very little for others.

I emailed the head of Beechen Cliff to ask what he planned to spend the money from parents on and why converting to academy status hadn't resulted in better funding (one of the reasons he gave for converting). He claimed they needed extra resources to come from parents to compensate for reductions in funding per pupil (particularly at post-16 level). He also said that the top-up scheme is used by most schools and had useful tax advantages.

I'd be really interested to know if his claim that most schools are using top-up schemes is correct (I've googled them and nothing has come up). I am pretty angry that he draws comparisons between his school and the independents and expects parents to respond to that. There are many, many reasons for choosing a state school over an independent; as a parent, my biggest concern is the quality of teaching and I haven't seen any evidence that the teaching is better in Bath's numerous independent schools. His - and our - time would be better spent campaigning for increased state funding than supporting schemes that erode the principle of free education and lead to greater inequality.

I would really welcome your thoughts on this.
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Comments

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 13:40

This is an unwelcome trend and something that heads should not be pursuing for all the reasons given in this post. It puts unacceptable pressure on parents who may feel obliged to contribute, it dissuades disadvantaged parents from seeking admission and it undermines the principle of free, universal state education funded through taxation which parents, grandparents etc pay.

It also increases the gap between schools in advantaged and disadvantaged areas, and between schools with an advantaged intake and those with more FSM pupils.

Schools should not have to ask for top-up contributions. Neither should they seek advantage over other schools by attracting more funding. The West London Free School, for example, received £68,000 in parental donations.

Not so very "free", then.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/income_parent_donations#incoming-...

rogertitcombe's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 14:25

Isn't it illegal? If not it should be.


Frustrated Teacher's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 15:20

The language is so telling. I note the emphasis on the expectation that ALL parents will contribute, but with the throwaway line beginning 'Of course....' to cover his back before praising parents that do contribute with the value judgement of 'generous' - as opposed to those who cannot contribute who must presumably be ungenerous? It is the sort of tactic that some schools have always used to maintain selection by the back door- once parents are aware that expensive uniforms and regular expensive skiing trips are part of the package at the school the less well off 'choose' to go elsewhere.


Kate English's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 15:25

My children's primary school tried to run an 'enrichment fund' where parents paid £10 per term. This was for trips, visitors, etc. Having the money upfront meant the school could take advantage of discounts. However they had to stop it as a few parents complained and starting spreading the idea that the school was making a profit from it (they weren't and now the fund has been stopped, it's obvious that it was very good value).

My point is that perhaps this head is rather disingenuously saying that this sort of fund is comparative to his....?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 15:41

There are rules governing charging (see link below for DfE guidance). Schools can ask for voluntary contributions:

"Schools may invite parents and others to make voluntary contributions to make
school funds go further. All requests to parents for voluntary contributions must make it
quite clear that the contributions would be voluntary. It should be remembered that
education provided during school hours must be free."

but the rules say:

"When making requests for voluntary contributions, parents must not be made to feel
pressurised into paying as it is voluntary and not compulsory. Schools should avoid
sending colour coded letters to parents as a reminder to make payments and direct debit
or standing order mandates should not be sent to parents when requesting contributions."

It appears that Jane's school might be violating these rules if s/he feels pressurised (ie by the sentence about ALL parents contributing). If the school included a direct debit mandate this could be against the rules.

This might also apply:

"Can a school ask for a direct debit to the school fund?"

"A. No. A school may ask for voluntary contributions, as long as it is clear that they are
voluntary, but we are clear that state education should be free and we have no intention
of changing this policy."


http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/c/charging%20for%20school...

rogertitcombe's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 15:47

£30 per month is a bit different to £10 per term. I think the difficult words certainly are 'ALL families'. A clearly stated request for a 'voluntary donation' might be more acceptable, but I still don't like it. I think Frustrated Teacher also makes a good point about putting off poor families. Surely such an 'expectation' has to be in the Prospectus, but if it was would it pass the 'fair admissions' criteria?


Guest's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 15:58

I am not sure why people are objecting to this. Parents who can afford it make a contribution and all pupils benefit. Objecting does come across as cutting off your nose to spite your face.
On another thread the LSN seems to be putting forward the view that extra curriculum activities and enrichment opportunities should be discouraged because they may not be available to all children in rural areas. Dumbing down, lowest common denominator etc.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 15:59

The Schools Adjudicator would take a dim view of any mention of contributions in admission criteria.

I think the tone of the letter was unacceptable. As Frustrated Teacher says, there is an implication that ALL parents should contribute and they're letting the side down if they don't. It makes parents who can't contribute feel they're sponging on the backs of more "generous" parents.

I'd definitely feel unwelcome if I were a parent of a child entitled to FSM. A cynic might say that was the intention.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 16:07

Don't be silly, Guest. The other thread did not say that extra curricula activities shouldn't be provided. It pointed out that in rural areas it's difficult for pupils to access them because of transport problems.

Read the DfE guidance, Guest. It makes it quite clear that education should be free. It's paid for from general taxation. It's both a personal benefit and a benefit for society as a whole.

It's unclear why stating the principle that state education is free and should remain so is "Dumbing down, lowest common denominator etc."

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 16:08

There's also the question about the possibility of "generous" parents expecting special treatment - such as inflated coursework marks or a prominent place in the school play for their children It could be construed as a bribe.


Rosie Fergusson's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 16:10

When my son started primary there was a "Monday fund tub" by the door and parents could drop some money in to support extracurricular activities and trips ; we all happily dropped coins in every monday probably to the tune of £15/term in total. However , once it changed to a suggested direct debit of £5/month, the income plummeted and the whole scheme was abandoned. Now the funding is maintained by a core group of 40 or so parents paying every month to enter prize draw . There is no reporting to parents on the spend , which is wrong when you know that the Chair of Governors will have had to authorise the separate bank accounts for anything other than the school's budget share and that the school knows very well what it's been spent on.

Jane, all schools have to demonstrate openess and best value with state funding and it follows that parents have every right to demand the same standards of probity with their own contributions ( which appear to be at least £100/annum e.g why should you contribute if it turns out that the money went on new kit for the rugby team or IPADs for 6th formers.

If I were you I Jane, I simply wouldn't pay it or you could say you'll only pay it if it contributes to funding for resources for disadvantaged pupils.

Organsie a challenge group..that#s what facebook is for!

PiqueABoo's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 18:07

This is reminiscent of Prince Henry’s Grammar School (ignore the name it's a state-funded Academy) wanting all their children to be equipped with an iPad2 which will be indirectly paid for via £360 of voluntary donations from parents over three years.


Ingenue Governor's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 20:01

There are plenty of maintained schools e.g Chiswick in London, who are in the process of piloting ipad schemes where parents will pay £10 /month or can provide their own IPAD 2 off ebay for £200.

Many parents have legit concerns about over-exposure to screens at school and some parents are quite rightly asking for a per family charge , rather than a per child charge. However there are others objecting because their kids already have iphones and ipad 4s and don't want to retrofit what they consider obsolete units ( irrespective of the environmental consumer power that schools are exercising in ensuring old ipad 2's cast aside are now being recycled for use in education).

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 20:07

Re JAnets comment "There’s also the question about the possibility of “generous” parents expecting special treatment – such as inflated coursework marks or a prominent place in the school play for their children It could be construed as a bribe."

I think we should respect teachers integrity.and assume that won't happen and even if it does then isn't it just proving to our children the way of the world ?

After all aren't our children all well conditioned from primary school to accept that its the kids of the PTA parents and governors and staff children and bright children that will get the main roles in class assemblies and the christmas play ; that even when it's put to the kids vote , as for school councils are , at the end of the day school's just a popularity contest?

Brian's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 20:14

Bit cynical there Rosie. I don't know many primary schools who allocate roles and responsibilities in the way you outline. I'm sure it goes on but to suggest it's the norm, based on limited evidence, I suspect, is a little Govian.


Rosie Fergusson's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 20:29

Welcome to Otley!


Brian's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 20:38

Fair enough, I don't know Otley. Not sure that makes 'all our children well conditioned .... to accept etc '


Rosie Fergusson's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 20:42

Sad to say I'm speaking from experience , Brian , of two children at the same school 6 years apart in age! We call the class assemblies "the X and Y show" as it's the same kids that always get the main parts.

At the xmas show the costume-less class choir ( a third of the class) was chiefly comprised of the new kids and the low attainers ( the parts having been allocated by popular vote).

Chris's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 22:20

It is a growing trend. My children's state school expects us to buy them text books (for English, Science for example); this never happened in my day. Yet the school puts on no school fete, or fund-raising events - talks, concerts, sponsored silliness - for the good old "school fund", money raised year-in, year-out by parents, teachers, ex-pupils, the children themselves, all working voluntarily to raise funds with events and the like, as we had to (in my state school, I hasten to add)?


John Mountford's picture
Wed, 05/02/2014 - 11:43

Jane, you are to be congratulated for your courage in deciding to speak out against the relentless attack on the fundamental principle that education is free and available to ALL children at the point of delivery. I trust that you will not be singled out in any way by the school for taking this action and would, as a resident of BANES, offer you my support if there is any fall-out over this.

With one notable exception, commentators to this post recognise the seriousness of the threat to the principle of free state education for all. Irrespective of social class, financial 'clout', or postcode it is regarded as a fundamental right in our country that all children and young people should have access to free education (provided out of the state's coffers). The issue of voluntary contributions has been clarified in law. The actions of Beechen Cliff Academy almost certainly flout those regulations and definitely challenge the spirit of the rules relating to such 'requests' for support from families. Like others, I believe the wording of the school's communication, whether intentionally or otherwise, will cause some parents (possibly many) to feel obliged to respond positively to the request for additional funding.

My intention in writing, as well as to offer my support, is to take the opportunity to add my voice to the gathering tide of those commentators concerned about the creeping privatisation of state education. I make my views clear and offer the beginnings of a solution to the underlying problem facing education in a modern democracy at

http://www.ordinaryvoices.org.uk/

Unless we work together to bring about a change in the national governance of education, we will consign the future of generations of children and young people to endless, expensive and aimless reforms of education. Just the over-run in the cost to taxpayers for the academies conversion programme alone could have been targeted otherwise to address underfunding of state sponsored and locally accountable schools.

BethJ's picture
Mon, 10/02/2014 - 09:15

It's really interesting to see this suddenly becoming an issue for community schools, as it's something that has been happening at Voluntary Aided schools for a long time (hence the term 'Voluntary Aided').

Many people think it's the churches that give the voluntary contribution - but no, it's the parents, often via a maintenance scheme run by the Diocese.

It is still meant to be voluntary, but the letter is very strongly worded at our school to imply it is a moral obligation, and the direct result of parents' choice of a church school.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 10/02/2014 - 13:03

Jane's concern about the request to all parents for voluntary contributions has resulted in the head apologising.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-26083998#

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 10/02/2014 - 13:06

Beth - the rules for "voluntary contributions" apply to Voluntary Aided Schools just as much as other schools. If the school or diocese is pressurising parents to pay up then they are violating the rules.

If, as you say, the church is implying it's a "moral" obligation on those parents who choose a faith school to pay extra contributions, then it doesn't say much for the Christian charity allegedly followed by these schools.

Another guest - James F's picture
Mon, 10/02/2014 - 13:44

I see a number of great and valid points, in particular about the "fundamental principle that education is free and available to ALL children at the point of delivery". No parents should feel the necessity to further financially contribute to their children's education. If one can afford gifting a little help to the school, I don't think anyone should second guess their intention. At the end of the day, other (albeit not always all) children benefit from such "generosity".

Guest and I share the same view that no one should "cutting off your nose to spite your face". And yes, Janet is right in defending the idea that state education is free, but there are limited resources and taxes to pay for everything we want rather than need. The school's letter may have come across badly, but the principle is sound. Do a little maths and it is clear that the £20,000 collected last year (reported by BBC) equates to about £15 per pupil per year, way short of the £10 a month suggestion. Just how many of those families have a xBox, Sky TV and annual holidays overseas, I will never know. I would however dare say that I would, in every occasion, contribute that £15 or more to my children's education, rather than the supplementaries that is nice to have, if I can only afford one and not the other.

The principles highlighted by John and OrdinaryVoices seem noble and of a worthy cause. However, how exactly has Beechen Cliff Academy flouted those regulations? No one is obliged to respond positively to the request for additional funding. As for the special treatment Janet mentioned, just exactly how would the teachers know who contributed what, when, etc... A question I do not have an answer for nor do I think anyone here has proof of. Transparency is key, unless we can better understand the benefit of the collected funds, parents are right to withhold the money, ask the questions but should never doubt the intention of great teachers and generous benefactors.

rogertitcombe's picture
Mon, 10/02/2014 - 14:14

A 'voluntary contribution' phrased in terms that make it very difficult to refuse is a fee.

The law is quite clear. Parents of state funded schools do not pay fees for any access to the school curriculum. If this were not the case then schools with intakes where parents were happy to make substantial voluntary contributions by direct debit would be better funded than schools whose parents cannot afford to pay. The child of a parent that cannot (or will not) pay is at a disadvantage if they attend either form of school.

This is unacceptable. Ofsted should check that it is not taking place and the DfE should write to all schools forbidding the practice.

If the DfE was not wasting so many £millions on Free Schools and Academies and failing to regulate properly, the per pupil funding of all state schools could be increased.

John Mountford's picture
Mon, 10/02/2014 - 14:27

James, you are right in pointing out that no parent is obliged to contribute as prompted by the school. As the BBC recent news report points out, however, in asking for contributions to be made via direct debiting it does not comply with existing law on voluntary contributions.

Also it is relevant that, Andrew Davies, the head of Beechen Cliff accepted "the letter's wording was "not helpful" and that he was sorry that he had not checked it more thoroughly before it went out." He will no doubt do all he can to reassure parents that he did not intend to pressure them into contributing beyond their means. I wonder whether he and his headteacher colleagues will take this opportunity to campaign for a better deal for state funded education by insisting that political meddling with education reforms must become a feature of the past (for example, endless changes to earlier changes to examinations and testing requirements and professionally contested changes to the curriculum).

Another guest - James F's picture
Mon, 10/02/2014 - 14:59

John - by way of a reply, I don't think Beechen Cliff asked for any form direct debit. We cannot second guess the wording of the letter but perhaps Jane can clarify if a direct debit form is sent to the parents. For clarity, I assume setting up a standing order is something quite different from a direct debit.

Moreover, Mr Davies can apologies for the unhelpfulness of his letter, but let's not ignore the bigger picture, the practice of making parents feel guilty for not contributing is deplorable but contributing to your the education of your children's and their friends education should be encouraged. Just because the Mr Davies apologies doesn't mean every school has failed in raising funds in an appropriate manner, nor should the cause at Beechen Cliff be condemned in its entirety.

In my humble opinion, Roger completely misses the above points. There is no suggestion that anyone is disadvantaged by these contributions. I have not seen evidence that the basic school curriculum has changed or charged to the parents. I stressed my point on the trenchancy on the use of funds. If these fund go towards the fabric of the school or extra-curricular activities for pupils than I see no issues with such practice.

Jane Middleton's picture
Mon, 10/02/2014 - 15:18

Thanks so much for all the responses to this. Parents at Beechen Cliff have just received an email in which the head says, 'I wish to apologise for the wording of this section of the letter and clarify that any contributions, whilst welcome, remain entirely discretionary.' Which is okay as far as it goes but it doesn't actually address my more general concerns about the scheme.

In reply to James F, the original letter asking for regular contributions had a standing order form attached, plus a Gift Aid declaration. It's not clear whether attaching a standing order form rather than a direct debit form is breaching regulations but I really don't see why one would be treated differently from the other - it's applying exactly the same form of pressure.

I'm afraid I cannot agree with your point that 'contributing to the education of your children should be encouraged'. We do contribute - through our taxes. Many, many parents simply cannot afford to contribute more and shouldn't be made to feel guilty or as if they're failing their children because of this. My son started sixth form in September and I have had to pay over £100 for text books already - I am very conscious that he is lucky that we can afford to do this, and I know that some other pupils don't have those books because their parents cannot afford them.

There is a big difference between asking parents to fund raise by, say, holding a school fete or a quiz night, and asking them to treat financial contributions to the school as part of their monthly outgoings.

John Mountford, I totally agree. Wouldn't it be great if heads campaigned for a better deal all round rather than pressurising parents for money?

Jane Middleton's picture
Mon, 10/02/2014 - 15:31

Here's a link to a piece in the Bath Chronicle, which asked other local schools whether they operated similar schemes. It's interesting that Ralph Allen School says it only asks for donations for specific projects, such as a new all-weather pitch. I think this is very different from a blanket request for regular payments.
http://www.bathchronicle.co.uk/Bath-head-teacher-apologises-wording-lett...

Another guest - James F's picture
Mon, 10/02/2014 - 15:57

Jane, I hope that you don't miss interpreted my point. Yes we all contribute, in fact, I contribute far more than I take via my taxes in this instance, everyone with children benefit from my taxes, whilst I am single and have no offspring. It is not an equation of putting in and taking out.

My point is, where one wishes to contribute by way of a gift to the school, how big or small, regular or otherwise should simply not be discouraged. I totally agree with you that other schools may do it better, like that of Ralph Allen. Likewise, no one should feel pressurised for the need to pay for the children’s education. Where you are so fortunate to be able to afford the books and others not, why not turn a compliant to practical solution, lobby those who can afford, contribute to the school and specifically ask for the funds to be used to buy books for students in financial difficulty?

The debacle of the standing order form is perhaps rather idiotic,, which you are right to challenge the school. I would however urge anyone to take a step back and consider this: by contributing with gift aid the school benefit from an extra 20% from the the Treasury, which the school would otherwise not get. All schools should learn from Beechen Cliff’s mistake and perhaps ask the parents to approach the school for the form, rather than immaturely sending it out in advance.

I leave with one final note - I fear that fighting for a better deal per John's noble cause is often hijacked for more "funding" - where from - the rich? There is only a finite amount of money a country can spend, sadly. As Jane rightly point out, the rich already pay for more, they don't all have more children than the poor. Yes they can afford more but rather than taxing them more, voluntary contributions from these individuals may just be a better option. We used to erect statutes for the do-gooders and I hope the poor and the rich can continue to be pleasant with one another.

Jane Middleton's picture
Mon, 10/02/2014 - 16:14

James F, I see your point about contributing through your taxes even though you don't have children. I'm sure there are people in perfect health whose taxes contribute towards the NHS. Basically, we all benefit in the end.

Of course, anyone is free to give money to a school if they choose. The trouble with saying that if wealthier parents give money it will help poorer students is that there are some schools that simply don't have wealthier parents, or don't have enough of them to make a difference. So you would then end up with a situation where some schools are better resourced than others - which defeats the basic principle of state education.

I personally do not wish to return to a situation where education depends upon the patronage of the wealthy. Hence the importance of funding schooling purely through taxation so it is free at the point of delivery.

Henry Stewart's picture
Mon, 10/02/2014 - 16:16

In response to Jane's post above, the BBC reported that the head had apologised:

http://bbc.in/1ei5ABc

Jane, please do keep us posted on developments.

rogertitcombe's picture
Mon, 10/02/2014 - 16:23

Jane should not be paying for textbooks either. I don't think 'voluntary contributions' from the rich is in any way an appropriate requirement in order for the state to be able to provide excellent schools for all pupils regardless of parental circumstances.

The idea that the rich should be let off progressive taxation because many of them make gifts to state schools is risible.

That old chesnut about childless adults having to unfairly contribute to the education of other people's children also doesn't stand up. It is the taxes eventually paid by said children that support the NHS, pensions and other provisions of the Welfare State for childless adults.

VF's picture
Tue, 11/02/2014 - 15:18

We have this debate a lot in my children's school (very mixed catchment area) and as an ex-chair of the school PSA (and NO my children never got any lead parts in the plays, or voted on to school council or countless other 'treats' Rosie mentions) we thought very carefully about what to do. We don't do it. However, there are already big divides between state schools I'm sad to say...parental involvement, money raised through PSA events, parental contacts etc etc....alas, the level playing field (if still one available) went a long time ago.


Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 11/02/2014 - 16:03

Jane - you're right that state schools should be funded through taxation and free for children right up to the end of the participation age (18). Education doesn't just benefit children but it's a benefit for society. All of us benefit from a well-educated population even if we have no children. It's today's children who will provide services for today's adults when they're old, require nursing or social care.

Encouraging parents to make extra payments puts pressure on those who genuinely can't afford it. I know some people make remarks about Sky TV, fags and booze but I've met many parents whose children are eligible for FSM who didn't spend money in this way (anecdote, I know).

Jane Middleton's picture
Tue, 11/02/2014 - 20:05

This has now reached the Daily Mail - which is certainly not what I had in mind when I originally posted on here!
I would just like to say for the record that Beechen Cliff is a good school with a very dedicated head. That doesn't change my opinion of the top-up scheme though - sending out a letter comparing the costs of private schooling and state schooling in order to get parents to contribute financially is wrong on so many levels.

Beth J's picture
Tue, 11/02/2014 - 22:12

The suggested donation at Tiffin School in Kingston is £520 per year (http://www.tiffinschool.co.uk/about/donations.html), and they say "there is no better way to help your son’s education than this ..... Your investment, their future .... An outstanding School with your support".

Well, caps off to all those schools out there that manage to be Outstanding without that level of contribution. Perhaps Ofsted should acknowledge the parents' input in their next report.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 12/02/2014 - 09:00

Thanks, Jane. Your post here has sparked a much-needed debate. The Mail article still quotes the head about "generous" parents (subtext: those who don't contribute aren't "generous") and his comment that it was not "a great sum to contribute towards a child’s education".

But taxpayers, which include parents, already contribute through taxes.

And that small sum is a huge sum to people struggling to pay for fuel , housing costs, food bills etc.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2556631/State-school-headmaster-...

Jane Middleton's picture
Wed, 12/02/2014 - 09:11

It's a complete red herring to say, 'It's not a great sum to contribute towards a child's education', isn't it? I wonder how people would view it if, when they went to see their GP or went into hospital, they were handed a standing order form and a letter that said, 'Private medical care normally costs £xxxx. In the NHS, healthcare is free but, if patients are willing to pay £30 a month, we could achieve so much more.'


Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 12/02/2014 - 09:34

Exactly, Jane. Your example of patients being asked to contribute to their NHS treatment is illuminating. I can hear the words now, "It's a small price to pay for your child's health" and "generous patients contribute towards the treatment offered at this hospital".

Moral blackmail.

rogertitcombe's picture
Wed, 12/02/2014 - 09:44

This is not about voluntary donations for specific one off good causes. This is an annual fee. The school is saying that without the fee the school will not be outstanding, therefore the fee is a subscription for an outstanding school that otherwise would be only good or worse.

An independent fee paying school would not have a different legal status if it waived fees for parents too poor to pay. LAs should prevent their schools charging fees, voluntary or otherwise. In the case of Academies or Free schools the DfE should do the same. The difference between a one-off voluntary donation and a fee is easy to define.

Some hopes.

This is quite obviously a step on the laid out path towards full privatisation when the per pupil funds available to support a child will depend on the size of the annual fee that the parent is willing or able to make. This makes a joke of the concept of equal access to excellent state funded schools.

It is wrong in principle. Full Stop. What is your view Tristram?

Beth J's picture
Mon, 17/02/2014 - 12:00

The Oratory scheme suggests £35 per month, or £50 per family. It also expresses a preference for a Direct Debit (not Standing Order), which I understood wasn't allowed.
http://www.london-oratory.org/tlos/htdocs/documents/pcs%20b%20brochure%2...

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 17/02/2014 - 12:47

Thanks, Beth. I noticed the donations go through the Friends of Oratory School and says "financial support is essential for the school to continue to provide a quality education". No pressure then - just the implication the pupils won't get a "quality education" unless parents cough up, entirely "voluntary" of course.

The rules say that direct debit/standing order mandates shouldn't be sent out with requests. The mandate wasn't included in the Oratory's request so they haven't broken the guidelines.

A Cooper's picture
Tue, 18/02/2014 - 15:07

The 'useful tax advantages' response from the head teacher rang alarm bells. Whose advantage? The schools or parents? Is this school seeking charitable status? Setting up a regular direct debit might suggest that they plan to tell HMRC that the payments are gifts which would allow them to claim back income tax through HMRC's Gift Aid scheme. A nice little earner.


Arun's picture
Tue, 18/02/2014 - 17:19

Parents who can afford it realise the value of residential school trips and will not leave the independent sector unless trips are provided in the state sector.

The Supreme Goviet has ordered the obliteration of independent schools so no child can escape his stakanovist program to increase productivity of future workers. His strategy is to woo parents who can afford school fees by providing them with socially selective schools with good results and foreign trips. The money saved helps parents overlook the vast size of state secondary schools and the low funding per pupil.

Parents who can comfortably afford school fees but send their kids to socially selective state schools claiming they want their kids to mix with 'ordinary' people should really send their kids to state schools with at least the average number of kids on free school meals. It is not very nice for them to take places at oversubscribed state schools.

Parents who pay school fees should not be made to feel they have done something wrong while well-off, well-connected parents taking up places in oversubscribed socially selective state schools are allowed to get away with claiming their kids go to 'ordinary' schools. Although, I can see how it is an advantage for people who have jobs lined up for them to have gone to state school before Oxbridge because they can argue even more strongly they got their jobs on merit.

The Government should provide funding for the enrichment of all kids so parents are encouraged to consider all state schools equally.

Unless Gove provides every child with a ski trip, state schools will be more divided, kids will realise there are no graduate jobs without connections (half of graduates don't get graduate jobs), they will realise they have paid huge university fees to be trained to be highly productive supermarket employees, they will feel ripped off and they will be very angry.

rogertitcombe's picture
Tue, 18/02/2014 - 18:09

Arun - I just don't recognise much of that, especially the alleged importance of ski trips to parents. I have never taught at or known of a state school that didn't provide residential trips of great variety and educational value. This applies to schools serving rich and poor areas alike.


Arun's picture
Wed, 19/02/2014 - 18:34

Parents who can't afford school fees but can afford school trips look at what trips state schools offer. There are also higher tax bracket parents who can afford school fees but believe they are being excessively taxed and think the state should provide separate, better schools exclusively for children of higher rate tax payers.

Gove wants to service these higher rate tax payers who want segregation because Govism is basically about increasing productivity and rewarding highly productive individuals.

Govists don't like independent schools because they can't control them. Good independent schools will not turn away children whose parents are not higher rate tax payers and who may have got the money to pay for their fees by winning the lottery or some other luck. Govists hate this because they believe someone like an HR executive in the public sector works 7 times harder than a frontline worker and only people like the HR executive have earned the right to the best education for their children.

Parents who are not higher rate tax payers have more rights at independent schools because they have a legal contract with the school. Parents of children at academies have no rights because the contract is between the Secretary of State and the academy and the funding agreement can't be enforced by Judicial Review.

Govists want to control all schools so places at the best schools can be awarded to parents as reward and recognition for productivity (cost cutting). The Govist strategy for destroying the independent sector is to persuade the punters to go state. By emphasising results and residential trips abroad, Govists hope parents will not notice the state secondary school has four times the number of pupils and a third of the funding per pupil than the local independent school.

A state secondary school with much less free school meals pupils than the other state schools in the area advertises the trips it offers like this,

"There is tremendous scope for residential visits and they are a great deal of fun! Year 7 enjoy camping in the New Forest, Year 8 are offered curriculum visits to France, Germany or Spain and Year 9 are given the opportunity to go outward bound in Devon—where water skiing, climbing and canoeing are the order of the day. Year 11 have an established trip to New York and there are a number of language exchanges.

However, it is the 6th Form who enjoy the widest range of travel opportunities. In recent years they have been on Photography trips to Prague, Amsterdam and Venice, studied the Russian Revolution in St Petersburg, experienced skiing in Norway and walked in the Swiss Alps. Other recent trips have included India and diving in the Red Sea."

Another school in the same area with a lot more pupils on free school meals offers these trips,

"There are a number of residential field trips including European overnight and day visits, a Year 7 residential, a Year 8 maths weekend, a Year 10 geography field trip to Swanage and an A’ Level biology field trip.
The highlight in the annual calendar is the Year 9 residential to the New Forest. With a tradition spanning over 25 years this includes camping, a night walk, activities such as cycling, kayaking and team challenges."

If you were a slightly guilty feeling mother with your eye on a bigger house now you don't have to pay school fees, wouldn't you choose the school with better trips to make up for the independent school experience your kids will miss out on?

Dani Northcott's picture
Mon, 05/05/2014 - 15:00

If anyone is interested I have started a group as I have objections to more academies opening locally, I beleive we should have a choice and I don't agree to the laws surrounding academy schools https://www.facebook.com/groups/281342565372315/


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