A school was forced to ask a food bank to help it provide lunches because of "devastating funding cuts", the Liberal Democrats' education spokesperson has said.
Delivering a keynote speech at her party's conference today, Layla Moran, a school governor and former teacher, warned that the comprehensive system was being undermined by the fact that some schools were asking parents for money to buy basic supplies.
She said: “The very foundation of our comprehensive school system is a belief that every child should be able to access a high-quality education – free.
“Having to ask people to chip in a little bit here, and a little bit there, undermines that basic principle.
“What kind of country are we becoming where schools have to rely on handouts to provide the very basics?
“To paint the walls of classrooms or repair a broken window.
“To buy books or take their pupils on a trip? I heard recently of a school in my area that had asked a local food bank to help it provide lunches.
“In my county of Oxfordshire, head teachers are warning that ‘there is nowhere else to cut without seriously damaging provision’.
“That’s code for, ‘the next thing to go are teachers’.”
The primary school in Oxford, which did not want to be identified, was rejected by the food bank, and had to cover the costs itself, which Ms Moran said had hurt it.
The Oxford West and Abingdon MP, who was elected in June’s snap election, also attacked the “obsession” with league tables, and competition between schools, and raised the idea of everyone having to attend their local school.
She asked delegates: “What good comes of encouraging needless competition between schools to look like they have the best grades?
“What have we done to create a system where a school felt it needed to exclude pupils because they didn’t get the required 3 Bs in their mock A-levels?
“I believe that story is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Ms Moran said the concept of a market in education had done nothing to address the attainment gap, and asked: “Instead, what if we said everyone had to go to their local school, but we gave that school the resources and the freedom to be a great local school?
“What if instead of focusing our efforts on providing choice for parents, we thought instead about giving that choice to the students?”