When schools ask parents to cough up for essentials, it undermines free, universal state education

Janet Downs's picture
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It may be a ruse to draw attention to the schools funding crisis.  It may not.  But asking parents to set up regular donations to cover essentials is not the way to ensure adequate funding for all England’s schools.

TES found academy finance manager, Marc Lewis, had sent a joint letter to the Public Accounts Committee from Barnet schools.  It warned the funding crisis was critical: some schools were already requesting parental contributions of up to £600.

The Government says school funding is protected.  As pupil numbers rise, schools will receive more money.  But this doesn’t increase the amount available to spend on each pupil.  And costs have risen.

If schools ask parents to contribute to essential education rather than just extra-curricular activities then free, universal state education is undermined.  Schools in advantaged areas would find it easier to persuade parents to set up direct debits – after all, they’re investing in their child’s education, aren’t they?  But schools in disadvantaged areas would find it difficult, perhaps even unethical, to request regular contributions from cash-strapped parents.  And that includes not just pupils who have free school meals (FSM) but that group beloved of Prime Minister Theresa May: the just-about-managing. 

Parents should refuse to pay contributions for essentials.  Doing so may advantage their own children (or rather protect them from Government underfunding) but it disadvantages other people’s children.  

Society as a whole benefits from all children receiving a good quality education.  It should not be a case of better education subsidised by parents and poorer quality for children whose parents can’t pay.

What parents should be doing is protesting against Government underfunding of educationHeads should be doing the same not just trying to protect their own school.  And we should be suspicious when former Government Adviser, Sir Andrew Carter, CEO of South Farnham Academy Trust, suggests academies should be able to ask parents for about £500 a year to pay for ‘additional’ facilities.  This is especially true when the charitable trust allied to the school, South Farnham School Trust, admits in its accounts (year ending 31 December 2015*):

The trust is likely to be asked to support the employment of additional staff at the school depending on the funding allocation in future years.

Not additional facilities, then, but essential expenditure.

Sir Andrew is no stranger to fund raising.  In 2002, he took part in BBC TV programme in which he swapped his South Farnham school where parents raised £15k per year for a Birmingham school in a deprived area.   He said the inner city school was hampered by low expectations but could raise more funding if it had the will.  The Telegraph reported he proved the point by ringing round local businesses and raising £900.

But it should not be up to heads to raise money to fund their school adequately.  This was recognised by Carol Lyndon, the head Carter changed places with.  The Telegraph reported Lyndon’s opinion of Carter:  he was ‘more a business and PR manager’ than a head.  ‘He’s a nice man.  He’s charismatic and has the gift of the gab, but he’s a bit of a plonker’, she said.

The responsibility for raising sufficient funding for education lies squarely with the Government.  It should not be down to heads to ensure their schools are adequately funded.  Neither should it be the responsibility of parents to subsidise their children’s schools.  It’s divisive and inequitable.  It must be resisted.

See NUT leaflet, Every child deserves the best Invest, don’t cut, here.

UPDATE 12.42.  

You can see the scale of the cuts facing each of the schools in your local area at http://www.schoolcuts.org.uk/#/

 Parents are mobilising against the cuts. Find out more about the parent led campaign at: http://www.fairfundingforallschools.org/

 

*accounts for South Farnham School Trust are downloadable from the Charity Commission website.

 

 

 

 

 

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