It’s a hard time for parents up and down the UK these days as government cuts to public spending really begin to bite, and people find their take home income being eroded almost by the day. To many families where every penny becomes a prisoner, they know that the odd pound here and there soon add up. But it would seem that UK schools – irrespective of where they are, and the demographics of their catchment area – are living in an economic bubble.
At our children’s school – and hundreds of others it seems – not a week goes by but kids are being asked for 50p here, 50p there for fair trade, charity projects. Then there’s the PTA at schools. No one is denying they do a great job – ours subsidises school trips, Christmas trip to the Panto and so on – but they also have their hands out on a regular basis. I’m wondering if school Head Teachers are fully aware of what handing over 50p for each child every couple of weeks means? When it mounts up to £2 or £3 at a time, someone on £50k a year wouldn’t even think before handing it over But to someone on a low fixed income? Well, that might represent a meal. Its how a lot of people think.
Trouble seems to be that the people who are asking kids to hand over cash every week or two are in the fortunate position of having a comfortable income, or having a partner who is well paid. In their experience, it might not occur to them to think that not everyone is in such a fortunate position. They can do it, so everyone should.
Then there’s things like school uniforms. A lot of schools don’t have a uniform policy, but for many, while it may not be compulsory, children are encouraged to wear it. Now of course, for many schools, selling the uniform can be a good earner for the school fund. Negotiate a deal with a supplier to sell uniforms, add a margin, and watch the cash come flooding in. That can be a costly business to parents however. So many are brainwashed into thinking that they have to get the uniform. While Jane was talking to a few mums about another money making exercise – paying to come to school out of uniform – they were shocked when Jane told them that uniform wasn’t compulsory, so why should we pay for them to not wear it?! That shock didn’t extend to the idea of paying for it though. Speaking of school uniforms, it was decided at our kids’ school that the uniform needed tarting up. So, different coloured jumpers, jackets etc would be offered. Now, despite it not being compulsory, so many aren’t aware of that, so of course parents felt obliged to buy the new items. At nearly £10 a go for a jumper, £15 for a rain jacket, it doesn’t take much to work out that for even a single child, that’s a costly business. At a meeting, I asked whether or not this was really a priority in such difficult economic times. Well, that was shot down asap! I suggested making sure it could be bought at other local stores, like at supermarkets and low cost fashion retailers. “Why are you talking about these?” Well, not everyone can afford to kit out their kids in the uniforms the school are selling! Likewise ignored.
That goes back to the idea of what is affordable and what isn’t. Small amounts for parents who live comfortably aren’t an issue for them, but they don’t understand its that way for everyone. But what is a parent to do? Those who can afford it least could put their child to school in the uniform they’ve had to grudgingly pay for – but how out of place would the child feel with all their friends in “street clothes”? It would be easy in those circumstances for children to be stigmatised for not having the pound to hand over for the “privilege” of not having to wear a (non-compulsory) school uniform. Then there’s the looking down the noses from parents who gleefully join in throwing money are the school, and the PTAs. How dare you not join in and help subsise a school trip for our children that we can easily afford? Playground politics is a dangerous area, so offend the cabal of community minded, friend of the school parents – I’m sure you know the type – at your peril!
At the end of the day, I don’t mind occasionally contributing to projects and the PTA. As I said, they do some good work, and ensure some kids have experiences they may not otherwise be able to encounter. But it’s the increasing frequency that’s the problem. You can’t get blood out of a stone. The risk for the schools is that people know they can’t give for everything given the pressures on family finances. The default position for many may become don’t give anything at all. Then watch school fund finances suffer in turn.