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Parents hit by mounting costs for children's education

Reporting by Tony Diver

Parents of state school students are facing increasing costs for the education of their children, a survey by teaching union NASUWT has revealed.

The survey, which collected responses from over 2,500 parents, assesses the hidden payments requested by schools for equipment, clothing and field trips. Chris Keates (pictured), the union’s general secretary, said it was “an unacceptable tax on children’s learning”.

The report highlighted the increase in financial discretion handed to schools and suggested that it had contributed to the mounting costs parents now are faced with. This level of “freedom”, it says, has led to a year-on-year increase in parental concern over additional costs, as well as a disparity in the amount of money parents across the country are expected to pay.

“There is a real danger that some parents could find that the cost of school uniform, curriculum activities and equipment in some schools puts admission to the school of their choice way beyond their financial means,” Ms Keates said.

Uniform was a major grievance, with over half of parents revealing that they spent over £100 in fees for their eldest child alone, with two-thirds saying they had to purchase clothes from a specific supplier, according to the study.

One parent said that their school had recently changed the uniform from a generic style available at a supermarket to one only available at a supplier. “The only difference is a badge, but it costs nearly three times as much,” they said.

Geoff Barton, headteacher at King Edward VI School in Suffolk, said the report made “disturbing reading”, and that while school and college leaders were “very conscious to keep costs to a minimum”, the “increased autonomy for schools appears to have led to much more variation in costs for parents”, something he said “can’t be a good thing”.

The introduction and prevalence of electronic payment systems allowed schools to collect money more easily, with over a quarter of parents indicating it was used by their child’s school. Some claimed that the school or local authority collected a surcharge of 25p or 50p per transaction.

NASUWT had concerns that the costs associated with state education could impact on the quality of learning, especially where field trips were compulsory to the course but still costly. “Selection of pupils and parents on the basis of ability to pay must not be allowed to become a reality,” the report warns.

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