Exclusive: Cash-strapped schools asking for parental contributions of up to £600

Finance director in Barnet claims schools are soliciting parental contributions of up to £600, as Kent grammar charges parents £60 each to meet "crippling" textbook bill

Warwick Mansell & Will Hazell

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Schools in Conservative controlled areas are resorting to asking parents for donations of up to £600 a year to cope with squeezed budgets, TES can reveal.  

An academy finance manager who co-ordinated a joint letter to an influential Parliamentary committee, from schools in Barnet, north London, warning of the problems, told TES just how serious the situation had now become.

Marc Lewis, from, Wren Academy in North Finchley, said: "In some schools, we are likely to be asking for parents to pay for textbooks or additional entitlements.

“Some schools are already asking for parental contributions – up to £600 a year in some cases – and that may go up.”

Meanwhile it has emerged that a Kent grammar school is asking some parents to pay £60 each to replace textbooks rendered obsolete by reformed GCSEs and A levels.

Mr Lewis was one of 25 school business managers and finance directors in Barnet who recently sent a letter to the Public Accounts Committee, which is investigating school finances, warning they may have to ask parents for donations thanks to the government’s funding squeeze.

The letter, sent to last month, says that schools funding overall has not increased, as the government is keeping spending constant per pupil in real terms.

But overheads including employers’ pension and national insurance contributions and teachers’ pay are going up, it warns. 

The letter says: “On a per student basis funding is not increasing. Costs are.

“As professional managers we are already making savings, up to and including staffing cuts. We are not replacing staff who leave, cutting teaching and support provision, reducing spending on text books, and we will inevitably have to consider passing some of our costs onto parents.”

The letter concludes: “It is our growing view that we can continue to make savings or we can continue to provide a better education. It is unrealistic to ask for both.”

In Kent, Edward Wesson, headmaster of the Skinners’ School in Tunbridge Wells sent a letter to parents yesterday asking them a pay £60 each to meet the “crippling bill” caused by its textbooks being rendered obsolete by changes to GCSEs and A-levels.

He said the school had been left “in the middle of a perfect storm” by the government's exam reforms.

“All old text books and other resources have been rendered effectively obsolete, creating a demand for new materials that is financially insupportable,” he writes.

According to the letter, new GCSE text books for updated specifications in Physics, Chemistry and Biology alone will cost the school £20,000.

“Therefore we are asking parents in Year 9 (Year 10 from September) to fund their sons’ core subject text books in those subjects that have already started GCSE courses, namely Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Religious Studies,” the letter says.

It says this parental contribution would “significantly alleviate a crippling bill that the school cannot support”.

A payment of £60 will be "required" for each pupil taking those courses before the end of March. The school says it is “happy to help in cases of hardship” and says that the pupils will be able to keep the textbooks.

“This is an acute, and I hope short term, problem in a context of very difficult funding constraints,” Mr Wesson adds.

“Many other schools are cutting subjects, or entire departments. We believe strongly in a broad education at Skinners’ and wish to find other means to avoid such draconian methods of retrenchment.”

Kevin Courtney, NUTgeneral secretary, said: “It’s a really bad thin end of the wedge if you start co-payments. It’s the start of privatisation if you make that an obligation.”

But he said the blame for increasing parental contributions lay squarely with the government.

“The buck has to stop with government which is cutting the school budget,” Mr Courtney added. 

Last month, a survey by the parent-teacher group PTA-UK found that more than one in three parents of children at state schools had been asked for donations, at an average of £7.30 a month.  The Institute for Fiscal Studies has predicted that schools face funding cuts of eight per cent by 2020 once inflation is taken into account. 

And in November a former government adviser - Sir Andrew Carter, chief executive of the South Farnham Educational Trust - suggested that schools should be allowed to ask for around £500 a year from parents to fund additional facilities, to bring them into line with those provided in independent schools. 

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The government has protected the core schools budget in real terms since 2010, with school funding at its highest level on record at more than £40bn in 2016-17. 

“But the system for distributing that funding across the country is unfair, opaque and outdated. We are going to end the historic post code lottery in school funding and under the proposed national schools funding formula, more than half of England’s schools will receive a cash boost. 

“Funding every child fairly and according to their needs is at the heart of delivering the government’s pledge to build a country that works for everyone.

"We recognise that schools are facing cost pressures, which is why we will continue to provide support to help them use their funding in cost effective ways, including improving the way they buy goods and services, so‎ they get the best possible value.”


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Warwick Mansell & Will Hazell

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