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Schools asking parents to pay for textbooks and stationery, survey reveals

Concerns have been raised about the numbers of schools asking parents to pay for textbooks and stationery in order to make ends meet, a new survey has revealed.

Ahead of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) annual conference in Manchester next week, research carried out by the union found that a quarter (26 per cent) of its members in state schools and colleges who were surveyed said their employer had asked for voluntary contributions towards text or revision books.

More than one in 10 (13 per cent) said parents had been asked for money towards the cost of school stationery such as pens and paper, with 90 per cent requiring contributions towards curriculum-related school trips.

A head of department in a secondary school in Cornwall said: “We have cancelled a trip, which was linked to the curriculum, because the contributions meant there was a significant shortfall. We’ve also found that in the past four years or so, far fewer students come on 'expensive' trips, eg, to a museum in London, when travel costs are high.”

Another teacher, working at a Surrey primary, said: “When contributions aren’t made it means we always make a loss on trips or incoming theatre groups, and pressure is growing to not do them.”

While 82 per cent of the 500 staff surveyed said their school or college would make up the difference if a parent could not afford a school trip, just 30 per cent said it would foot the bill if parents could not afford to pay for textbooks. A quarter said they had helped parents meet stationery costs themselves.

One teacher at a primary in Gateshead told the union their school had resorted to asking for donations of scrap paper and toys, as well as holding school fairs to raise funds.

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said: “With budgets being squeezed now, more than ever, schools and colleges are having to rely on parents or carers to help pay for resources and activities that support the curriculum.

“Many schools and colleges work hard to provide a wide range of experiences and activities that benefit all pupils. Without voluntary contributions from parents and carers many students would miss out on a rich, diverse school experience.

"However there is a big problem with hidden poverty, where some families feel too embarrassed or proud to ask for help, and more needs to be done to support those families so their children do not miss out on important learning activities.”

A third of the school staff surveyed said pupils were left feeling like an “outsider” if their parents could not afford to contribute. Almost two-fifths (38 per cent) of teachers said pupils were forced to miss trips if their parents couldn’t afford to contribute.

Jenny Inglis, who is leading a debate on this issue at ATL’s conference, said: “Only 7 per cent of respondents felt that asking for voluntary contributions had no effect on disadvantaged pupils. Whether it is to be made to feel an outsider, not be able to go on a trip linked to the curriculum, or not have access to revision materials; all make the often already difficult lives of these pupils even more difficult.”

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