SKINNERS’ SCHOOL has sent out a letter to parents asking them to help pay for new textbooks to keep up with changes to the GCSE curriculum.
The high-achieving grammar school has suggested a voluntary contribution of £60 per pupil, claiming that it will otherwise face a bill of more than £20,000.
The request from headmaster Edward Wesson cannot be compulsory because the Department for Education forbids schools from charging for books unless the parents want their children to own them.
“It’s a contribution, not a charge,” Mr Wesson stressed. “GCSE curricula have changed, particularly in terms of exam questions – and new books are much more useful than old ones which relate to old specifications.
“Every GCSE specification is in the process of significant change”
“The £20k figure relates to the total cost of providing a text book for each science to each pupil in Years 9, 10 and 11. That’s £45 each for 450 pupils.
“Every GCSE specification is in the process of significant change – these are the exam reforms proposed by Michael Gove in 2013-14,” he added. “In general our pupils like to have their own but that is not affordable,” he added.
Mr Wesson had already sent out a letter last September which asked parents to make a monthly donation to the School Fund to help fund an artificial sports pitch.
He said: “The generosity and support of the Skinners’ community is vital if we are to be able to offer the broad range of activities that enrich our teaching programme.”
Schools across the country are having to resort to such pleas because their budgets are being squeezed. But asking parents to pay for books represents a new level of need.
A new funding formula, announced by Education Secretary Justine Greening in December, increases money targeted at schools with additional needs, including deprivation and those outside urban hubs.
But nationwide, schools are facing overall cuts of 8 per cent, with 98 per cent set to lose out. The average cut to secondary schools has been calculated at £405,611.
According to the National Union of Teachers, Skinners’ is set to see a reduction of £288,987 when the new formula is applied from April 2018, which equates to £421 less per pupil or the equivalent of the salaries of eight teachers.
The NUT claims that such shortfalls will lead to increased class sizes, staff reductions and cuts to extra-curricular activities and resources. There are also fears that sixth forms will face even tougher cuts.
Mr Wesson admitted: “We constantly have to review whether we can do the same as we’ve done before, whether we can afford to run as many subjects, to have reasonably small class sizes. We are having to making funding decisions on a regular basis.”
A Department for Education spokesman said the funding changes ‘will help to create a system that funds schools according to the needs of their pupils rather than their postcode.’
In addition, grammars in West Kent are not allocated as much funding as those elsewhere in the county because they take in fewer poor pupils who require free school meals, and therefore receive less ‘pupil premium’ payments.
According to a report by the Grammar School Heads Association (GSHA) in January, families could be asked to pay £30 to £40 a month to maintain teaching standards.
The GSHA said 60 grammar schools will gain under the funding changes, but 103 will lose money. It said the majority of grammar schools are already receiving below the level considered viable for running a school.
But the problem with accessing teaching materials is not a new one, and it is not confined to selective schools.
Three years ago, a survey of 500 teachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers found that one in four schools of all types across Britain had asked parents to pay for books and revision materials.
Nine out of 10 respondents said their schools asked for contributions towards the cost of school trips related to the national curriculum, and 38 per cent said the children would be excluded if they failed to pay.