Can pay won't pay

18 Nov

Last time I checked I’m pretty sure my principles still placed me fundamentally opposed to private education. So I can’t understand how I came to be in a battle of wills over paying for a compulsory feature of my children’s education.

There’s absolutely nothing in this world could persuade me that private education deserves to exist. It will be a cold day in hell before I send any of my children to a fee-paying school. Just so we’re clear on that.

I am a fervent supporter of state education. Just so we’re even clearer.

The school my children attend has a uniform which I am delighted to provide in addition to the bits’n’bobs that make their time at school comfortable and productive. From calculators to gym kit, stationery, funky socks, backpacks and indestructible thermos flasks, I do my very best to equip them for the day. Sometimes they even manage to bring it all back home again for me to wash, repair or despair over. I expect the school in return to provide them with a safe environment, expert staff and appropriate facilities in which to learn.

I am a member of the Scottish National Party. Just so we’re clear on that.

Two years of Council Tax freezes have seen local authority budgets remain pretty much static in a worsening economic climate. In real terms the pot of money available to schools has probably fallen as there is nothing in place to force authorities to ring-fence money for education. The climate is unfortunate, the lack of a financial commitment to education is local, petty, partisan and despicable. I would not support an SNP u-turn on their promise to not raise Council Tax but I despair at public spending cuts in areas I think should be protected.

In S1 and S2 all pupils follow a set timetable that covers a broad range of subjects and each department has its own budget to deliver their classes. Not a single one of them can do it for £0. Science, Art, Tech and Home Economics are the obvious areas in which pupils require access to perishable materials… these are the departments who obviously need to replenish stock year on year. Having said that, every department needs materials of some sort, paper, jotters, textbooks, PCs, printers, footballs, badminton nets, trumpets, TVs…. they all need stuff and they all need money to maintain the level of stuff they need to succeed.

This year I have been asked to contribute a whopping £20 for Home Economics. I have no idea why this department along with Tech are alone granted leave to demand I fund them direct from my pocket rather than through my taxes. I’m pretty sure the school hasn’t sneakily gone private whilst I wasn’t paying attention. I’d have heard something.

And demand they do. My 12yo son is regularly pestered by his H.E. teacher, often in front of the class, to be a bit more forthcoming with financial support.

I have handed money over to these departments for the last two years running without really thinking about it, but no more. I am not paying. And until such time as my son is financially independent I will have to ask his teachers to stop directing their demands at him and come talk to the grown up.

The Art department are having to struggle by on a pittance for materials this year, and I’m sure MrW would be skipping through daisies if he thought he could get away with asking for £20 from each pupil doing English, swelling his departmental budget by something like £20,000. He’d still be skipping if half of us refused. If Chemistry and Biology and Physics are able to provide materials for experiments without me having to stump up then I’m sure H.E. can manage to find money for the cheap Tesco blue label crap they make the kids cook with without lining their pockets with an extra £6,000 or so. It’s even more galling when they barely give the children enough ingredients to make more than  2 cups of watery soup or 6 un-iced fairy cakes.

At home we use icing…

Frankly if the school can’t fund a subject why is it compulsory for pupils to take it? The last place I want my son is stuck in a kitchen full of Tesco blue label crap, and for two years running I have had to fight the same damn battle to ensure his safety in these kitchen classrooms. I don’t think they have yet managed a lesson with ingredients free from nut allergy warnings. Why  would I agree to pay for this?

No, I am not paying.

This year I think I will take the £20 contribution H.E. have “requested” and give it to Art. No doubt they will think me mad and to be honest what will they get for £20? But their need is definitely no less and the art work is far more welcome in my home than what they  have my son throw together in a 50 minute cooking lesson. Believe me!

I’d be more inclined to financially support the Tech department if they’d seen fit to include a cheap 9v battery with the “Don’t touch the wire or it will buzz hideously and freak your mother out” game they made last term.

I’d rather have sent that money in for History or Geography or some other department that runs on thin air, I’d have given it to English but MrW would have spent it on biscuits.

Moot point, apparently I already paid it before this blow out.


17 Responses to “Can pay won't pay”

  1. Heather November 18, 2009 at 9:25 am #

    I’m confused. you don’t want to increase taxes, you understand that the school aren’t getting the money they need, you are angry because they use cheap ingredients and yet you are furious that they dare ask for some contribution? The £20, was that for the year? Cause thats really not a lot of money per class.

    I went to state run school in Lancashire and I remember that we had to actualy provide our own ingredients. We were sent home with a list of what we needed for the next class. I’m sure I’m remembering this right. We used to work in groups and the ingredients we needed for the group were split between us, say 4 people make a cake, one would bring the flour, one the sugar etc.

    I can understand your anger in one way, there is the worry about where will it end. If everybody gives willingly for one class, why not another, why should the math departments hand out books for free or the PE department not insist that you provide your own balls…

    • mrsw November 18, 2009 at 10:55 am #

      I think it’s unfair that one department gets to line its pockets with extra cash when the supplies we get in return are the cheapest and poorest quality available. The Art department have less than £1 per pupil, why should H.E. alone be free to raise £20 per pupil, EXTRA? I think all departments including H.E should be properly funded with enough money to deliver the course they are charged with delivering. As they are clearly not then ALL departments should be free to request parental contributions and parents should be free to contribute where they see fit. If nothing else you’d hope it would embarrass the council to see their schools begging for supplies.

      My OH has found books in the English department with pupils names inside them, pupils I went to school with over 25 years ago. He even came across a stack of papers with MY Higher results in them! The building celebrated its 50th birthday when I was a third year pupil, it is falling down round my own kids ears while the local authority clap themselves on the back and in the press for the three secondary schools they are rebuilding from scratch, one of which was considered new when I was young. How can they justify three new multi-million pound buildings when there are bigger and older schools in the city of Perth virtually in ruins? My kids dining hall is officially condemned (so they tell me) yet what do Perth Academy spend the cash sweetener in lieu of a new build on? A gym, a FOURTH gym, cos a school can never have enough GYMS can it? (Please note this cynicism is ENTIRELY my own, they’ve had 2 new gyms since I left yet sports don’t appear to be thriving quite as much given the fact that they can’t even raise a boys hockey team using all 6 year groups).

      When I was at school we too provided our own ingredients, sewing patterns and fabric for Home Economics and I would far prefer that were the case today. I would be able to supply safe food for my son rather than have him handle the crap the school supply which is virtually all marked with nut warnings. Where possible I DO supply my own ingredients as what they use has the potential to kill Andrew, yet I still have to pay? I think not!! Sewing consists of 1 rectangle of cotton stitched together to make a drawstring bag and 2 pieces of felt cut in the shape of a stocking sewn together with pom-poms stuck on. Over 2 years. In 1st year I made a nightdress and in 2nd year a skirt using a proper pattern and a sewing machine. If they were teaching them more than how to grill toast, make fairy cakes and tack 2 pieces of material together I’d be more than happy support H.E. but as it stands it’s a joke! What your school did would be even scarier – if Andrew had to share ingredients other pupils brought in I’d have to remove him from the class altogether.

      I have no issue with taxes being raised, in fact if they would ring-fence it for essential services such as education I would be shouting from the rooftops to raise taxes. The SNP, however, pledged to not raise COUNCIL tax for 3 years and I would not support them breaking an election promise. It’s a fine line between political suicide and political triumph and in the long term I believe Scotland’s success lies in the hands of the SNP.

  2. Littlemummy November 18, 2009 at 10:43 am #

    Sort of agree sort of don’t.

    I remember always having to provide my own ingredients for H.E. so that’s not a new thing. I don’t think we should be asked to provide funds directly for school, however, the money has to come from somewhere. I’d rather pay more tax and have decent education than less tax and no facilities or supplies. At least with coucil tax the money is based (loosely) on earnings which means that everyone can benefit from education. There are some parents that can’t pay.

    So basically I agree I think public education should be *absolutely* free at the point of service, but the funds have to come from somewhere and if that means increased council tax then so be it.

    • mrsw November 18, 2009 at 11:03 am #


      Sort of.

      Council tax is based entirely on the value of your property as at some arbitrary date in 1981 or 1984 (ish). I am a higher band than my next door neighbour and we live in almost identical semi-detached cottages (actually theirs is a bit bigger with MUCH more land). Go figure!

      Money does have to come from somewhere, why H.E. get to ask parents and nobody else does is what beats me!

  3. cartside November 18, 2009 at 11:06 am #

    This makes me furious. I mean, what about the kids who really don’t have the dosh? There’s lots of them, and no way their parents will say “I won’t pay”, they’d do anything for their kid not to stick out like a sore thumb of poverty. There’s parents who would go into debt. I do understand Home Economics has additional costs, as surely other subjects, but none of them should charge. Maybe a voluntary contribution, do fundraising, whatever.

    Raise tax, yes, I think tax should be raised, especially for people on higher incomes, it’s shocking that you can earn 100k before you get taxed good and proper. Not sure if council tax should be increased as it too hits the poorer families disproportionately more.

    I do know schools are stuggling, but get real, so are families on very low incomes, who’ve just lost their only breadwinner’s job due to the recession (and I know a few of those).

    • mrsw November 18, 2009 at 11:09 am #

      You know, if they are targeting pupils in class the way they are targeting my son and chasing them for money and these kids come from families struggling to pay…. doesn’t bear thinking about really does it?

    • Audrey November 18, 2009 at 6:56 pm #

      I didn’t do H.E. I chose design and technology and made a notice board. Which is probably why I’m eating pizza for tea tonight. But surely they budget for these things don’t they? Is there not some big meeting where each dept. lays out their costs? By their logic it almost seems like this (apparently massive) shortfall has come as a bit of a surprise!

  4. mrsw November 18, 2009 at 11:06 am #

    If we voluntarily contributed £20 for every pupil to a central fund that would give the school in general an extra £20,000 to add to it’s budget and if they split this between the departments fairly and equally based on the number of pupils in each department THEN I’d be a happy bunny. I’m not completely unwilling to contribute, but I am unhappy to see one department so favoured over other (in my opinion) far more important subjects.

  5. SingleParentDad November 18, 2009 at 12:54 pm #

    My mother was a H.E. teacher, she even ‘taught’ me for a term. I totally get the logic that it is unfair that one subject can ask for money when another cannot, particularly when both are compulsory. What conditions do the school apply to the contribution? My son has only recently started school, and we have had letters about contributions for Christmas activities, that carry the caveat that while any suggested contribution is voluntary, the trips will be cancelled without sufficient funding. Would your child be asked to spend the 50 minutes of H.E. elsewhere eventually?

    • mrsw November 18, 2009 at 2:11 pm #

      Him and I would both be delighted if that were the case!

      I don’t know what will happen, you may have picked up that I’m pretty horrified that the Art department measure their budget this year in PENCE per pupil so if I do (and I probably will) direct my £20 contribution there I will write to the rector advising him what I am doing and why.

      I feel for kids when their parents are pressured into paying for whole school activities that are special treats. My sister works in a school where the socio-demographic background of the majority of pupils wouldn’t lend itself to such a strict “pay or it’s cancelled” ultimatum. They take the whole of P4 to the local panto each year, which is more than my cash-rich village school every did. It’s a minefield, I think special treats are fine to pay for, I think those that cannot pay should not be excluded and I know schools here have common good funds they can draw on to ensure inclusion so nobody misses out. I also know parents who are well able to pay who would kick up merry hell if someone less fortunate got the same as precious Portia for free and would fight tooth and nail for an equal share of the PTA bank balance. Parents can be quite feral.

  6. Kelly November 18, 2009 at 2:28 pm #

    Well, I’m glad that we aren’t the only people with a completely stupid funding system for our schools. In Ohio, USA, we fund our schools with property taxes. This means we have some really fantastic public schools that operate in wealthy neighborhoods and scary pits of delinquency that operate in poor neighborhoods. Our state government declared this system illegal 10 years ago, but it stands because they cannot agree on an alternative.

    I REALLY want to be a supporter of public schools. My husband and I have debated working from the inside out to change things, but things are too far gone. Our daughter would be attending one of the poor schools. Catholic school is the only real alternative here (unless I want her to learn about Intelligent Design) and I just can’t bring myself to pay for that.

    For now we are homeschooling.

    • mrsw November 18, 2009 at 11:33 pm #

      Jeez Louise Intelligent Design? That’s frightening. The Council Tax we’re talking about is probably pretty much the same as your property tax, it’s a sum paid per household based on the market value of the property. However, our local authorities who receive this tax tend to cover large areas with widely varying levels of wealth. Also, in Scotland schools tend to be placed in catchment areas that ensure a good mix of social backgrounds and we have a low level of school placement requests where parents choose the state school outwith their catchment area. There’s really an AWFUL lot good about our system, and in the grand scheme of things £20 isn’t much – to me. But all those £20 notes add up and I think it might be time for someone to ask where they go (that would be me – hahaha!)

  7. JJ Daddy-O November 18, 2009 at 3:30 pm #

    A few thoughts: Granting, for argument’s sake, the need for extra funds for materials, etc., I would much rather have a once a term/year contribution then the constant round of fund-raising activities that some schools have (raffles, cookie sales, whatever).

    And I think one of the keys to keeping the parents happy with this is transparency. If the school administration came to the parents and said “we get x pounds per student for HE, and the curriculum needs X+Y to work (with some kind of details), we would like you to send Y” that helps. If there can then be some fund-raising or a slush fund of some kind to make up for the families who genuinely can’t afford the extra, without calling them out in front of everyone, that is good too.

    • mrsw November 18, 2009 at 11:39 pm #

      Yes, transparency would be brilliant – in it’s absence I am now thinking FOI.

      I used to be pretty much singing from your hymn sheet,

      I would have preferred in the past to write a cheque rather than bake a cake or pack an Asda bag, but I’ve slowly come round to joining in, mainly because as my children have gotten older not only do they enjoy taking part, but I think it’s important that they learn to get of their butts to earn or help or whatever. It’s equally important they see me at least have a go at supporting them. I’m not PTA material yet and I have an arrangement in place where a friend will give me a good slap if it looks like I’m heading that way.

  8. Mwa November 18, 2009 at 6:08 pm #

    In Belgium, the government has now decided that it’s unfair to ask for more than about 20? 60? euros a year per primary school child (I forget the exact amount), so long school trips are out. The schools are actually getting a bigger budget for this, but they’re allowed to spend it any way they like, which means that most pupils get about a third of swimming lessons they would have had before. I’d be happy to pay a little more.

    • mrsw November 18, 2009 at 11:45 pm #

      It’s difficult isn’t it? We send the older kids on school trips to your neck of the woods that set us back hundreds of pounds (doubly as often MrW goes too!). At the end of primary school the whole year group are offered an Outward Bound type activity week, and again there is a similar 2 day trip for the whole of the first year when they start secondary. I know there are kids, especially at secondary, who don’t go, who say “it’s shit” or “boring” or “who would want to go do that?” It’s heart-breaking and very very wrong. But I don’t have the answer. Somebody somewhere has hold of a pot of cash that these families can apply to, they either don’t know or (quite understandably) don’t want to.

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