Grammar school asks parents to help pay off £100,000 deficit

Head at St Michael’s in Barnet, north London, says he is ‘terribly embarrassed’ but ‘there’s nothing left to cut’

CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Guardian

The head of a girls’ grammar school in north London is asking parents for suggested donations of £250 to help pay off a £100,000 deficit which he says follows years of under-funding, the Guardian reports.

Parents at St Michael’s Catholic grammar school in Barnet received a letter last week thanking them for the contributions they have already made in response to an earlier appeal, which has more than halved the shortfall.

The letter from Julian Ward continued: “Whilst the appeal has so far raised over £50,000 you will see that we are still a long way from covering the expected deficit. If we fail to reduce this still further in March we will then enter the forthcoming difficult financial year with a deficit before we even start the new year.”

St Michael’s is one of a growing number of schools facing financial problems and turning to parents to ask for substantial cash donations.

An accompanying reply slip gives parents the option to tick a box next to the statement “I would like to make a donation to the school of £250” or alternatively to specify a different amount, followed by details of how to pay.

St Michael’s is one of a growing number of schools facing financial problems and turning to parents to ask for substantial cash donations. Where once that money would have gone towards optional extras, now headteachers say they need it to pay for the fundamentals of education such as staff salaries.

Ward, who has been at St Michael’s for 28 years, said he was “terribly embarrassed” to have to ask parents for more money. “Generally they are very supportive of the school and many are very generous. They can see with their own eyes that the school is underfunded. They don’t need to be convinced the school needs more money. They are trying to understand why it is that the school is underfunded and whose fault that is.”

He said the fabric of St Michael’s, a voluntary-aided grammar school for girls set up in 1908, with boys later admitted to the sixth form, is starting to fall into disrepair because of lack of funds. While the school continues to invest in good teachers to maintain educational standards, computers have broken and not been replaced and new technology such as tablets are beyond the school’s reach.

“There’s nothing left to cut,” said Ward. “We are not prepared to make any more cuts in our teaching staff. The only resource left is to ask parents to sustain the high quality of education they are used to in the school.” He acknowledged, however, that lots of parents were not in a position to contribute.

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Lisa Pate, a parent with two children at the school, is not critical of the school but of the government, which she blames for the crisis. “I feel angry that schools are being put in this difficult position.

Philip Hammond confirmed in Wednesday’s budget that he would spend £320m on expanding the government’s free school programme

“Parents are already asked for hefty contributions to school funds and the extra pressure on schools and parents is so unwelcome and unhelpful. I feel schools and parents need to speak about these issues in order to make sure the government listens.”

Ward, whose school is described as “outstanding” by Ofsted, said it was ironic that some of the schools hardest hit by the current education budget squeeze were grammar schools, at a time when the government is planning to invest more money in new grammars.

Philip Hammond confirmed in Wednesday’s budget that he would spend £320m on expanding the government’s free school programme, creating 70,000 places in up to 140 schools, which will be able to offer selective education once legislation is passed to lift the current ban on new grammars.

Joanna Yurky, of the Fair Funding For All Schools campaign, said: “Today’s budget still means that per-pupil funding will go down by the end of this parliament. And our schools and our children will continue to pay the cost with fewer staff, bigger classes and cuts to the curriculum.

Funding every child fairly and according to their needs is at the heart of delivering the government’s pledge to build a country that works for everyone

“As parents, we’re seeing the impact on our children and our schools but the government is in denial about it. With the best will in the world, parents can’t pick up the bill for the government’s broken promises. Nobody voted for cuts to our schools.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said the government had protected the core schools budget in real terms since 2010 and quoted analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which showed that spending per pupil almost doubled in real terms between 1997 and 2016.

“Funding every child fairly and according to their needs is at the heart of delivering the government’s pledge to build a country that works for everyone. We recognise that schools are facing cost pressures, which is why we will continue to provide support to help them use their funding in cost-effective ways, including improving the way they buy goods and services, so‎ they get the best possible value.”

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