For several years austerity and the funding crisis have been the root cause of many significant and unwelcome issues faced by schools up and down the country. Headteachers have spoken out about rising class sizes, having our curricular offer diminished and an inability to meet a growing need to support children and families across a range of complex social and emotional issues. Often the victims of schools cuts have been the most disadvantaged pupils and those who have to contend with a special need and/or disability.
It’s often been surprising that, as headteachers have spoken out and charted potentially damaging shortfalls in their provision, parents have been tremendously supportive and saved their criticism for the government and Department for Education.
One of the many unforeseen consequences of the cuts endured by schools has been the desire of parents to help school budgets in whatever way they can. Fundraising activities, parental donations and gifts have become the norm, but whereas such support used to be for the “little extras”, they’ve now become an essential mechanism for cash-starved schools to afford the necessities. In the most extreme cases, schools have resorted to “crowdfunding” the salary of teaching assistants or encouraging parents to set up monthly direct debits to prop up budgets.
In a recent Worth Less? survey of 2,000 serving headteachers, two-thirds confirmed that they are becoming more reliant on parental donations. This is not what state education should be depending upon.
Many of us are inspired to do a demanding job because we want to provide opportunity for every child in our care. Parents shouldn’t be forking out from their own pockets and feeling obliged to provide the money to enable us to enhance our provision beyond a crude core offer. Moreover, schools in more affluent areas are likely to accrue far greater levels of parental support and money than those schools that serve areas of disadvantage. It is horribly perverse that the schools that need the most financial help have the least access to fundraising opportunities.
Jules White is a headteacher and leader of the Worth Less? campaign group