Access to education increasingly on the basis of parents’ ability to pay

Children’s access to critical educational opportunities is becoming even more dependent on their parents’ ability to pay, a survey by the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union in the UK, has revealed.

The annual survey, which elicits thousands of responses from parents, has been conducted each year since 2012. The survey for the academic year 2014/15 shows the escalating costs that parents increasingly face.

The Coalition Government’s education policies, which have allowed schools to charge for educational activities which were previously free and which have seen the abolition of the national guidance on school charging policies, have been instrumental in driving the increasing financial burdens that parents face for items such as school uniform and equipment.

The survey findings included:

  • two thirds of parents said that uniform had to be purchased from a particular supplier, compared to 57% in 2013. Nearly half of parents (48%) said the same for PE kit and equipment, up from 44% in 2013. Restricting the purchase to one supplier often means the items are more expensive;
  • there has been a steady increase in the costs of providing equipment for lessons. The number of children whose equipment costs parents under £50 per annum has reduced from 84% in 2012 to 69% in 2014, whereas the number of children whose equipment costs parents in excess of £76 per annum has risen from 6% in 2012 to almost a quarter (23%) in 2014;
  • the average cost to families of school meals has increased. Over half (51%) are now paying between £2 and £4, compared to 44% in 2013, when the average cost per pupil for meals was between £1 and £3;
  • financial donations to schools are rising. In 2014, 62% of parents that made financial donations to their child’s school paid over £21 per year, a rise of 10% on 2013. In 2014 there was a 6% increase in the number donating in excess of £51. These are ‘voluntary’ contributions that parents often say they feel obliged to pay.
  • the cost of trips and excursions has increased, with well over a quarter of parents now spending over £200 per year and increasing numbers unable to afford to pay for their children to participate.

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said:

“It has always been a fundamental principle of our great public services that they are free at the point of use.

“Now, thanks to the Coalition Government, for too many children, access to many critical educational opportunities is increasingly based on their parents’ ability to pay.

“The costs of attending some schools are now acting as a barrier to parents accessing their school of choice for their children.

“Educational experiences that promote opportunity and achievement should not be determined by an ability to pay. It is simply unacceptable that the curriculum options for young people are determined by whether their parents can pay for books, equipment or field trips.

“The concerns of parents in the NASUWT’s survey were confirmed recently in a poll conducted by ComRes, in which almost three quarters of parents agreed that there should be much stronger regulation over how much schools are allowed to charge for the services they provide to pupils.

“At a time when there are over 3.7 million children in the UK living in poverty, and families already hit hard by the Coalition Government’s economic and social policies, it is scandalous that parents now face an additional, unacceptable tax on their children’s learning.”

Notes to editors

A copy of the survey is attached. This is the third annual Cost of Education survey undertaken by the NASUWT.

Over 2,500 parents, grandparents and carers responded to the survey, which was conducted in Autumn 2014.

A separate recent survey of parents, carried out by independent polling company ComRes and commissioned by the NASUWT, found that almost three quarters of parents (73%) agreed there should be much stronger regulations over how much schools are allowed to charge for the services they provide to pupils, with over a third (36%) of parents saying the cost of educational visits is not affordable, 33% saying the same about school uniforms and a fifth (20%) for the cost of equipment.

Parental comments

A selection of comments from parents who responded to the survey is below.

“More and more specifications have been added to the school uniform to include, for instance, trainers solely for school use, and jumpers, tops and hats now having to be purchased from the school. This has resulted in more than doubling my expenditure for this year.”

“The headteacher of my second child’s school informed us that the £600pa contribution is to top up the cuts they have had in funding.”

“The school seems to give little regard to whether trips are affordable.  For example, year 12 AS geography field trip, which is a mandatory part of the course, was in Arran, a long trip from the south-east, and costing nearly as much as a budget holiday for a family. Another local school meets the needs of a field trip by local day-excursions.”

“School-based activities such as cooking, music, some sports, drama are now voluntary, depending on whether you want to pay. Some of these activities take place in school time if you pay.”

“I do not yet know how I can afford the bus fares next year. I will probably have to take out a loan.”

“Subsidised transport arrangements have been altered by the local council, increasing the cost to us by a very substantial amount.”

“We struggle because we don’t want our children to stand out. We do without.”

Lena Davies
Press & Media Officer
0121 457 6250/07867 392746