Schools are finding it increasingly difficult to subsidise school life, for children whose parents cannot afford to meet certain costs. Bills for uniforms, PE kits, shoes, lunches and school trips are being footed by schools from dwindling budgets.
The Guardian reports that with school budgets under pressure and further cuts expected there are fears they will not be able to continue to fill the gap. Kevin Prunty, executive head teacher at Cranford Community College in west London, commented:
“Schools know already that there are sizeable further cuts to funding on the way – and whilst we are currently able to fund these additional needs – it will soon become more difficult and perhaps impossible to justify doing so.”
Prunty uses the kind of scenarios his staff deal with on a daily basis to illustrate the level of need.
A year 7 boy needs additional support but his symptoms don’t meet the threshold to qualify for child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs).
An educational welfare officer helps a family where the father is suffering from a mental illness and keeps telling his children they are terminally ill. Another colleague intervenes to help a child with impaired hearing.
Someone else takes a pupil out to buy a suit for a job interview for a traineeship. It’s not just the money – they coach them for the interview and make sure the suit fits properly. “There’s nobody to say whether the arms are too long, so some of our staff take the responsibility,” says Prunty.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that increasing costs and growing pupil numbers will result in an 8% cut in funding per student by 2020 and an inquiry has been begun by the public accounts committee to examine the financial sustainability of schools.
At another school in Hounslow, a head teacher, who to remain anonymous, says he increasingly ‘feels like a debt collector’, having to chase up parents who owe the school money. As families at his school struggle to make ends meet, many are building up large debts. Some owe hundreds of pounds for school lunches and he estimates that parental debt is costing the school £10,000 a year.
The issue has been raised by Seema Malhotra, Labour MP for Feltham and Heston, who has become increasingly concerned about the hidden burden on schools’ budgets. She commented:
“Schools are being faced with a stark choice. Let children from poorer backgrounds miss out on educational opportunities and experiences, or pick up the costs and take on financial debt. Budgets are already under pressure and with further cuts to school funding, helping families in need is set to get harder.”