Schools trying to cope with squeezed budgets are taking the “unprecedented step” of asking parents for regular cash contributions to their running costs.
Tadcaster Grammar, a state-funded secondary in north Yorkshire, wrote to parents claiming that “financial constraints will inevitably” affect its ability to maintain its current provision.
Headteacher Martyn Sibley said rising pension costs and a 3.4 per cent increase in National Insurance contributions from next April meant the school must find an extra £1,100 per teacher.
The government has promised that funding levels per pupil will be maintained during this parliament, but will not rise in line with inflation or costs. A recent study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies said in real terms this amounted to an 8 per cent cut to budgets.
Mr Sibley said in the letter: “As a consequence . . . we are taking the unprecedented step of consulting with parents about their views on raising additional income through voluntary parental contributions.”
The letter asks parents how much they would be willing to pay toward a general contribution each month, in increments from £5 to £50.
It also asks if incidental requests for money – for example, to fund art and technology equipment or locker rental – should be axed in favour of a monthly payment, with options ranging from between £2.50 to “above £10”.
A further monthly contribution of £10 to £15 is also suggested to finance Chromebook laptops that could be leased to pupils.
The school would not comment, but stressed this was a consultation and did not constitute a final decision.
If all parents agreed to the maximum donations, 12 months a year, it could mean paying £75 each month per child which would give the 1,500-pupil school an extra £1.35 million a year.
Such decisions are likely to become more prevalent. The National Association for Head Teachers (NAHT) found in a recent survey that two thirds of school leaders will be unable to balance the books by 2019 and, ahead of next week’s comprehensive spending review, wrote to education secretary Nicky Morgan calling on the government to invest in schools.
NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said the situation in Tadcaster showed the “difficult decisions” facing the sector. “Schools are increasingly having to come up with creative ways to address shortfalls; further evidence the money coming into schools is not keeping up with the expenditure they face.”
Matthew Wheeler, a fellow and trustee of the National Association of School Business Managers, said in principle there was nothing wrong with seeking parental support.
“But when you are in a position of power it’s impossible to separate it from the perception that you must; up to £80 a month is significant.”
It is not the only school to go down this route. Last year the Evening Standard in London reported that pupils at West London Free School pay £35 a month, while parents of pupils at Queen Elizabeth’s Boys School in Barnet, north London, contribute £60 a month.
The Department for Education (DfE) said schools needed to make it clear that there was no obligation to pay and individual schools should “manage their budget to prevent going into debt”.
A spokesperson said: “This government is taking the difficult decisions necessary to ensure the schools budget is protected and will continue to rise as pupil numbers increase.”
However Phil Reynolds, academies and education manager at accountancy firm Kreston Reeves, offered a lighter alternative to boosting school incomes this festive season.
He said schools registered with HMRC as charities for at least two years – typically academies, free schools or independent schools – could take advantage of the Gift Aid small donations scheme.
“If your academy is due to host a Christmas play, it can collect voluntary donations in a bucket (much like a charity fundraiser) and now claim an additional 25 per cent from HMRC.”
It can only be for donations up to £20, with a maximum claim of £5,000 per year and the school must have a “clean compliance history” of Gift Aid claims for two years.