Schools 'depending on parents' direct debits'

By Sean Coughlan
Education correspondent

  • Published
classroomImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Schools have been turning to parents to help with funding

Almost one in five parents in the UK is being asked to set up payments to their children's schools, as head teachers warn of budget shortages, says a survey from a teachers' union.

The NASUWT survey claims some parents are asked for £400 or more per year.

Schools in England have been warning of cash shortages and the union says schools are now depending on parents.

But the Department for Education says "no parent is required to make a contribution".

Teachers' unions are holding their conferences over the Easter bank holiday weekend, with funding one of the biggest issues.

Direct debits

The National Union of Teachers, meeting in Cardiff, will hear warnings on Saturday about the impact of cash shortages.

The survey from the NASUWT survey, holding its annual conference in Manchester, claims that schools are increasingly relying on money from parents.

Based on almost 4,000 responses, the survey says 18% of parents have been asked to sign up for direct debits or standing orders for their children's school, typically of about £50 per year.

But more than one in 20 parents with children in state schools were paying £400 or above.

A further 13% of parents had been asked to make donations in cash or cheques.

Your comments on schools asking parents to top up their budgets:

  • "I pay a total of £490 a year to the school in voluntary payments. I believe that this money is an investment in my daughters' education and a small price to pay for them to attend one of the best state schools in the country. How are schools supposed to compete with private schools for best universities' places if their funds are cut?" Catherine, Wallington
  • "We have recently been contacted by the head teacher of our daughter's school requesting parent contributions of £10 per month per child (£120 pa). My position is clear in that we all pay enough taxes that we should not need to additionally fund my children's education. This feels akin to blackmail. Once you start paying, what's stopping the school from coming back next year and saying that they now need £20 per month or £30? Where do you draw the line? I fundamentally don't like how this makes me feel. Ian, Sunderland
  • I got into an argument with my daughter's school about this precise issue. They were always asking for money for this or money for that. They expect you to go in and tell them why you can't pay which is embarrassing." Sarah, Kirkby
  • We are talking over £1,200 per annum per child if you really want your child to participate fully in the school activities which are scheduled in a given calendar year." D, Southampton
  • "Where possible, we have paid an extra contribution to both my children's schools. I also appreciate that there are other parents around the country who cannot afford to 'top up' schools' funding. There are only two choices - raise taxes or cut spending, neither of which are palatable." Noel, Croydon.

"She's only been there a term, but there seems to be a letter home at least once a week asking for money," a parent told the NASUWT survey.

"The school asks for a 'voluntary contribution' but if you forget to pay you are sent texts telling you that you haven't paid," said another parent.

There were other financial costs for parents, such as a laptop for homework and music lessons.

"We have not allowed them to do music at school as they need to provide their own instruments," said a parent, quoted in the survey.

Over a quarter of parents said their child had been unable to take part in a trip or excursion because of the cost.

"Ski trip was £600. French trip £450. These are for less than a week. They are beyond my funds," a parent told the survey.

The union's leader Chris Keates said that "access to education must not be based on parents' ability to pay".

Record funding

This week the Sutton Trust education charity warned of schools cutting staff because of financial pressure.

The Public Accounts Committee has said that standards are threatened by school budget cuts of £3bn.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Sutton Trust warned this week of schools cutting staff because of funding problems

A lobby of Parliament over funding, by teachers' unions and parents' campaign groups, has been announced for early June.

Kevin Courtney, NUT general secretary, reminded the government of a manifesto commitment to parents that "the money that follows their children into schools will be protected".

"In half of the schools in the country the money following your child into schools has been dramatically cut in cash terms, and in the other half it's been cut in real terms," he said.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "No parent is required to make a contribution to their child's education, the rules are clear on this and no policies have been introduced by this government to allow schools to charge parents."

The spokeswoman said school funding was at record levels, but "we recognise schools are facing cost pressures."

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