Parents are coughing up an average of £11 a month to their children’s schools to help meet education funding shortfalls, a survey has shown, and many are being asked to provide items as basic as stationery and loo roll.
The parents and education charity Parentkind commissioned a survey of 1,500 parents and found that two in five are asked to contribute to a general school fund, to be used in whatever way the school needs.
The average monthly voluntary donation by parents has increased by more than a quarter in a year, rising from a reported £8.90 in 2017 to £11.35 in 2018.
Jo Murricane, 39, from Leeds, who has a four and seven-year-old, told HuffPost UK that her child’s school often asks parents to make monetary contributions. “Basically, the contributions cover all the things the school can’t afford, but that will really benefit the pupils and their learning,” she says, citing bakes sales and school trips. “I don’t really mind, but it’s hard to see the school struggle to make ends meet in this way, due to underfunding.”
Well over a quarter of respondents to the survey (29 per cent) said they were giving between £10 and £30 a month. Encouragingly, more parents reported knowing how this money was being spent than previously – over half (51 per cent), compared to just over a third of parents (38 per cent) in 2017.
More than a quarter of parents have reported that schools have asked them to pay for school clubs that used to be free (26 per cent) as well as being asked to pay to attend events such as sports days and concerts (28 per cent).
A fifth of parents have been asked to supply teaching equipment (stationery, books, glue pens, etc) and more than one in 10 have been asked to supply essentials such as toilet paper.
The findings come shortly after the chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced a £400m budget bonus to “buy the little extras schools need”. Headteachers reacted strongly to Hammond’s comments that the bonus was a “nice gesture”, which would help headteachers afford “a whiteboard, a couple of computers, whatever it is they want to buy”.
Cathy Bussey, an author from south London, often contributes to her daughters’ local primary school. Last summer, she was asked by the school for a donation of £15 to the “general school fund” – the first time she had been asked that academic year. She says parents also contribute through school fairs, dress-up days, quiz nights, bake sales and other events put on with the purpose of raising money for the school. “The school fair will set us back about £40 and that’s twice a year, and we contribute towards school trips too,” she says.
The school fair will set us back about £40 and that’s twice a year, and we contribute towards school trips too."
Despite this, Bussey doesn’t mind paying. “Personally I’m completely happy to pay it as frankly schools are horrendously underfunded,” she tells HuffPost UK. “Anything that helps schools is good in my book. But it does make a mockery of our so-called ‘free education system’.”
And Laure Moyle, from West Sussex, says her two children at secondary school get similar requests for voluntary donations to the school fund because, she believes, the school is unable to manage its costs. Currently, the suggested contribution is £25 per kid per year as a charitable donation, on top of paying for art supplies and school trips.
“I’m lucky I can help without it making too much of a difference to my expenses so I don’t mind – but I get that it’s not the case for everyone and the point of the local school is that you shouldn’t have to I guess,” she says. “I now have two kids there this year so the cost of supporting them is going to double too as I get a request for each child.”
The divide between parents who may and may not be able to afford these extra costs is something Michelle Doyle Wildman, acting CEO of Parentkind, says is crucial to address. Wildman believes these additional monetary contributions may have the unintended consequence of reinforcing and increasing educational disadvantage – driving a wedge between home and school.
“We encourage schools to seek to consult and work with parents on tackling these resourcing issues together so that all children are given the opportunity to achieve,” she said.
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