So there it was, laid out in black and white on the page: the school running club, the PDF file announced, would now cost £12 a term. Until now, it had been one of only a handful of free clubs.
It still sounds like a bit of a bargain, right? Well, yes, compared to private swimming classes or cello lessons, it’s astoundingly good value. But this was the very first time I have personally, knowingly, felt the effects of school budget cuts – and it sent a shiver down my spine. For me personally, the £12 isn’t going to break the bank. To my shame, I could spend that on a Sunday afternoon on a couple of hot chocolates and an almond croissant. No, I shivered at what this charge symbolised, and for the people who would genuinely be put off sending their child because that £12 is too precious to them. For other parents – those truly pushed for cash – that money can go a very long way indeed.
I would never want to criticise the school – it is amazing – and I’m sure they have made some extremely hard choices lately.
However, we can only blame the government and their relentless drive to present schools as profligate. Remember: education funding has never been higher, right?
For me, the running club represented everything I believe my child’s East London primary does so well, alongside providing a solid academic education for our children: promoting social and gender equality and creating a sense of togetherness in a diverse community.
Removing this important free club is just another step towards school budgets cuts making afterschool enrichment something purely for the middle classes to enjoy. The range of clubs is still impressive – and good value – but what is the point if only half the school can afford them?
I recently heard that only half of the parents at my children’s school pay the voluntary contribution for school trips. It will surely not be long before the school cannot afford to continue propping them up too.
Of course, many have bigger concerns about the effect of the cuts – axing teaching assistant posts, whole exam courses or access to proper pastoral care, for example.
The effect of school budget cuts
But I am concerned that the gradual erosion of the "small" things, may, in the long run, also have an extremely harmful effect on individuals, the atmosphere of schools and whole communities.
For example, what happens if school budget cuts result in the number of hours your school reception is manned being reduced and all communication being conducted with working parents through cold, faceless and efficient emails?
Well, parents feel cut off from the school community, slightly unloved and less-inclined to shell out at fundraisers, make costumes, help with reading, give talks or run clubs. Believe me, this stuff really matters.
Likewise, headteachers need to think twice about cancelling the free tea and coffee in the staff room – and the annual teachers’ Christmas lunch. They need to be making the argument to look after their staff’s physical needs.
Of course, schools do need to rethink genuine waste – photocopying and PR budgets can almost always be reined in – but the small things that promote wellbeing or increase a sense of community are what hold schools together and build community goodwill.
They are not something to be salami-sliced into oblivion.
Irena Barker is a writer and mother of three children, two of whom are at primary school
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