As the leading body championing parents' role in education, PTA UK recognises the financial pressures on schools today. At present, our member parent teacher associations (PTAs) collectively raise £99 million each year but also volunteer three million hours of their time to enrich our schools. Parents have told us increasingly that PTA funds are invested in school essentials rather than the ‘extras’.
Effect on schools
The national funding formula proposals will mean funding gains for some schools and losses for others. However, in real terms the funding available to all schools is less because of increased cost pressures including teacher pensions and the apprenticeship levy. Both the Education Policy Institute report and the Institute for Fiscal Studies report recently released confirm this. Teachers, head teachers and governors are calling for greater investment if schools are to have sufficient resources to function, along with a better understanding of what it actually costs to educate a child.
Effect on parents
But parents are also feeling the pinch. Our annual parent survey found that the majority of parents are concerned about the growing cost of sending a child to state school. Over a third of parents polled had been asked and were giving regular donations to their child’s school. In recent weeks, the trend for schools asking for donations from parents (and some sizable sums to boot) appears to be ramped up. Although there is substantial goodwill between parents and schools, PTA UK is concerned that parents are being financially overburdened and under pressure to donate.
The school funding debate has led some school leaders to threaten that schools will have no choice but to ask parents for voluntary contributions to bridge the gap. Our annual parent survey showed that over a third (37%) of parents already recall being asked to donate to their child’s school fund (£7.30 being donated each month on average). However, nearly half of these parents (46%) do not know how that money is spent.
Parental views on financial contributions
It’s fair to say that opinions differ on whether it is right that parents are requested to, and make, financial contributions to their child’s school.
There are many parents who are willing to make a contribution. Conversely others will already be facing financial hardship and would struggle to do so. Another set of parents would disagree in principle and would wish to see education as ‘free’ for all.
Within that context, nearly three quarters (72%) of parents have told us they think the cost of sending children to state school is increasing with nearly half (47%) being concerned about having to meet these costs. School trips* top the list for the biggest concern; while four out of 10 are worried about the cost of uniforms and one in five (19%) show concern over the cost of school meals.
We are calling on the government and schools to engage parents in a more holistic way – communicating and consulting them continuously on the issues and working together on the solutions, acknowledging the positive contribution parents already make to the success of our schools and our children’s education. Crucially, whether this is supporting learning at home or being engaged as volunteers within schools, parents should not merely be seen as a source of income but recognised as vital partners in our children’s education.
PTA UK feels a national debate on this would be helpful so that all the issues can be aired and crucially that the issue should be viewed from the perspective of parents (rather than from the schools).
PTA UK would like schools to make a greater effort to engage parents in a dialogue on funding. Schools should put into place mechanisms that have an effective dialogue with a representative cross-section of parents through a parent voice group or parent council. And a member of the board of governors or trustees should have a responsibility to ensure this happens.
Our member associations raise funds and build communities to enhance the education of all the children in their schools. PTA UK believes that, on balance, parents who are willing and able to making a financial contribution to their child’s school should do so via a PTA. The very best PTAs have a clear constitution on what they aim to do, are effective partnerships between teachers and parents, can claim Gift Aid as registered charities, and offer parents a chance to influence where any funds raised are invested. They can also generate additional benefits through co-ordinating parent volunteers, bid for grant funding and engage the wider school community in its activities.
*AVIVA estimated the cost of school trips to be £120 a year in 2013.