Can't afford the zoo? Then weed the allotment for activities week

A school plans to charge pupils to do weeding during lesson time as part of a range of options during activities week, whilst other pupils go abroad.

At £1 for the day, ‘clearing the weeds and helping out on the allotment’ is at the bottom end of options set out by Sir William Romney’s School, a small 11-16 comprehensive situated in Gloucestershire for the first day of ‘school activities week’.

Kids will have to watch children whose parents are much better off head out to wildlife parks, adventure playgrounds, climbing walls and riding stables

Families with deeper pockets may opt for Bristol Zoo (£15); Drayton Manor (£27); archery, bushcraft and climbing (£27), and Paddle boarding (£28).

But parents are expected to pay, whatever they choose; the final tab for those who opt for the very cheapest activities each day – such as art, sports or creative writing – is £7 for the week.

Schools Week understands that the programme was put together by the school for children that were being left behind when their peers go on trips to Normandy, Paris or Italy in the week beginning 29 June.

Louise Tickle, who has a child at the school, is among the growing number of parents up and down the country who are increasingly concerned at the cost of sending their children to school.

The latest annual survey from Parentkind, which supports parental involvement in schools, found that four in ten are particularly worried about the cost of school trips and only a third believe that the cost of sending children to school today is acceptable.

Tickle said that it was “ludicrous” that families were being asked to pay for activities that would normally be free. Other costs at the school include £2 for art or £3 for cookery.

She added kids of hard-up families “will have to watch children whose parents are much better off head out to wildlife parks, adventure playgrounds, climbing walls and riding stables, which frankly, they probably do anyway”.

However, Jonathan Bell, headteacher at the school, said notice is given five months in advance to allow families to budget and pay in “affordable instalments”.

He said that a “considerable element” of the school’s pupil premium funding ensures that qualifying students at the school do not miss out on “cultural and enrichment opportunities”.

This includes financing “some of the more affordable school- based and local activities in our Activities Week programme”. The school also benefits from financial assistance from local organisations that help pay for activities, he said.

“The cost of the school-based activities are kept to an absolute minimum and basically allows students to receive ice creams and other ‘treats’ through the course of the activities. Under no circumstances do these funds contribute towards school budgets, staff costs or associated activities.”

Activities Week is usually run close to the end of the summer term for year 7 to 9 pupils. It is widely seen as a time where the usual curriculum is set aside in favour of enrichment activities.

But some schools charge three-figure sums for activities. At Newton Abbot College, for example, pupils can opt from anything from a four-day residential stay in Cornwall (£390) to a ‘creative outdoors week’ for free.

Others, like West London Free School, appear to offer just one activity for an entire year group.

Some schools are also revising their approach.

Last year, West Exe School, in Devon, was offering activities such as golf (£125); horse riding (£150) and Scuba diving (£345), whilst just four of the 19 options, such as coding or an upcycling project, were free.

The school has reviewed its approach after recognising the need to further eliminate the potential for inequality of experience due to cost, according to Tamsin Frances, head of business support.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said affordability is a “key consideration” for schools in planning activity weeks.

He said schools often provide hardship funds for poorer pupils and take advantage of group discounts to get adventure activities and overseas trips at “relatively low prices giving pupils opportunities they may not otherwise be able to afford”.

But John Jolly, Parentkind chief executive, said schools need to think “very carefully about what they are doing, what the costs are, how they consult parents and how they manage expectations”.