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Selection of pupils and parents on the basis of ability to pay is becoming a reality

As the Office of Fair Trading writes to schools asking them to take steps to ensure that parents are not forced to pay excessive prices for school uniforms, a survey of parents in England by the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union, has raised serious issues about the increasing costs ordinary families face in supporting their children’s education, even in state-funded schools.

The survey of 2,500 parents found that:

  • over half of parents were expected to buy their child’s uniform from a particular supplier, pushing up costs;
  • over half of parents  had spent over £100 on their eldest child’s uniform alone;
  • over a fifth of parents reported that they were required to pay for field trips that are compulsory elements of examination courses, such as A-level geography and biology;
  • more than one in ten parents said that they could not afford to allow their child to participate in an educational trip or visit in the last year because of the expense;
  • well over a quarter of parents were required by schools to purchase textbook and reference books for their children;
  • four out of five parents were required to provide writing instruments for their children while over three quarters of children had basic stationery, such as erasers, compasses and protractors, bought for them by their parents rather than by their schools. Over half of parents were required to spend in excess of £25 per year per child on equipment and materials of this nature;
  • over a sixth of parents were required to provide essential PE equipment, such as armbands, bats and balls;
  • over four fifths of parents were required to purchase clothing and footwear for physical education lessons.  Three in ten parents said this had cost them in excess of £50 per child;
  • nearly 40% of parents said they had to pay to enable their children to participate in after school lessons or clubs such as sports teams or drama groups;
  • over a quarter of parents made regular contributions to a school fund, with some paying up to £1,000 per year.

Some interesting information emerged from the survey about school meals, with just under half of parents who elect not to give their child school meals giving poor value for money as their reason for not doing so.

Almost a fifth of parents who opted not to give their child school meals said it was because the meals on offer were of poor quality and nearly half said it was because their children do not like the meals provided.

The NASUWT conducted the survey after becoming increasingly concerned about the escalating cost of education for parents.

The NASUWT believes that provisions in the Education Act 2011 which removed the cap on the price that could be charged for school meals in academies, enabled schools to charge for activities and subjects which were previously free and the scrapping by the Coalition Government of guidance on school uniforms, combined with the cuts to school budgets, are all conspiring to push up the cost of sending children to school.

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said:

“The survey illustrates the failure of the Coalition Government to recognise the impact of its policies on ordinary families.

“Families hit hard by the recession and the austerity measures are now facing an additional, unacceptable tax on their children’s learning.

“It is clear from this survey that for many children access to critical educational opportunities, which are key entitlements, are increasingly becoming based on parents’ ability to pay.

“It won’t be long before some parents find that the cost of school uniform, curriculum activities and equipment in some schools puts admission to the school of their choice way beyond their financial means.

“The fundamental principle of a public service being free at the point of use is being contaminated by the policies of this Government.

“Selection of pupils and parents on the basis of ability to pay is becoming a reality.”

Read the letter from the Office for Fair Trading to schools on uniforms

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