Price to be paid for no pin money today

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
This is the year daughter has been looking forward to since starting high school.

No, not for the anticipated joys of starting GCSEs, but because this is the year of legitimate makeup. Somewhere the school rules state that the makeup which Year 10 girls wear to school should be "discreet" but daughter and all her 14-year-old friends have conveniently not spotted the word. Or perhaps their excellent Sats results are truly meaningless - and the girls actually don't understand words of two syllables?

If this is true, I want my money back. What money? Why the money I'm paying for daughter's education of course. No, daughter does not attend a fee-paying school. She attends a local state school, but we're all paying for state education this year, and I don't mean simply through taxes.

Like most state schools, daughter's school is more than usually strapped for cash this year. Thus, unlike in previous years when all we had to fork out for were materials for technology, folders, pencil sets, maths sets, we're now expected to plug the hole in school finances by paying for other basics too. Apparently members of the current government are less literate than daughter and her friends - they cannot understand words of even one syllable, such as "free" in "free education".

Daughter's makeup habit - like the whole business of being a teenager - costs money. We expect her to fund frivolities from her pocket money. When the academic year started, she anticipated a cost-of-living increase in pocket money. This is a family tradition, though since last year daughter has to justify a real-terms increase by taking on extra (household) chores.

This year, her demand for an increase comes alongside a fall in dad's pay due to increased national insurance, tax and pension contributions, and increases in all our bills, including a huge hike in council tax. Thus, with all the cash to be forked out daily to her school, and more to come, a rise in pocket money isn't on the cards.

Daughter is outraged. This is the last straw. Isn't she already underwriting the school's financial shortfall? The building fund has had to be diverted. Thus she will continue to be taught in temporary classrooms for the foreseeable future. In all likelihood, various services will continue to fail throughout the school year. She will continue to use textbooks tattered, torn and dated enough to rival those handed down to us township kids, after several years of use and abuse, by white schools in apartheid South Africa. As her school continues losing teachers, she will find herself either in the often chaotic charge of supply teachers, or having to get used to new teachers as others leave.

Despite the worst efforts of those who have hammered state education in the past few years, daughter has learnt to do sums and ask questions. If all these taxes which impoverish us have increased, she says, we should benefit in terms of more pay for teacher dad and not having to dish out so much dosh for her schooling. So where has all the money gone? Daughter's eye falls on a local newspaper report. Our borough council recently voted its chief executive a rise amounting almost to dad's total salary. The lightbulb flashes on as daughter makes the connection between fat cat salaries paid to politicians and their cronies, and her sufferings.

The thing about daughter's generation is that, just because they're teenagers and into mobiles and makeup, doesn't mean they're stupid or shallow. In the last year, these children have taken to the streets to defend their peers in Iraq from being bombed in their names. They made the connection between paying for the bombs in Iraq and the underfunding of health, education and social services in their own country.

Now they're making other connections. Not even daughter and her mates would take to the streets for pocket money or makeup. But as they come up to voting age they are likely to seek revenge. If I were Mr Blair, or on our local council, I'd think seriously about this: fatcat salaries = no money for essentials at school + no pin money at home. Put another way: today's angry kids = angry young voters of tomorrow.

Shereen Pandit is a short story writer and poet

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