Parents asked to pay for “basic essentials” as Hertfordshire schools’ finances sit on a “knife edge”

Sats results are out today. PPP-161215-103140001
Sats results are out today. PPP-161215-103140001

Headteachers are asking parents to help buy classroom essentials as they struggle to balance their budgets.

Although schools might have asked parents to help raise funds for trips or play equipment for generations, their focus is now turning to the need for everyday items like paper and books.

MCHG 12-757   Councillor Terry Douris at Dacorum Civic Centre, Hemel Hempstead. ENGPNL00120121009100056

MCHG 12-757 Councillor Terry Douris at Dacorum Civic Centre, Hemel Hempstead. ENGPNL00120121009100056

The growing trend was highlighted at a meeting of Herts County Council last Tuesday (March 26).

Labour councillor Dreda Gordon said this could lead to an inequality of education.

“I was absolutely horrified that schools are now having to write to parents and ask them for contributions,” she said.

“They seem to be writing to parents asking for particular sums of money towards the basic essentials - books and materials - that pupils need in order to function within the school system.”

Lib Dem councillor Mark Watkin, who tabled the debate, highlighted two headteachers who said they had retired due “insufficient” school funding, plus a further three schools that had made up to five staff redundant.

And he pointed to the impact this was having in the workloads of existing staff and on the support for children with special educational needs and disadvantages.

Cllr Terry Douris , portfolio holder for schools, highlighted the increase in school budgets in Herts - from £944million in 2018/19 to £965million in 2019/20, with a further £2.862million additional high needs funding.

He said this - as well as government funding for additional teachers pensions contributions - would go some way to easing these pressures.

And he said the county council and Herts For Learning were already working with schools that were facing challenges.

But Cllr Watkin said the 2.2 per cent increase in school funding - far from a “windfall” - was an inflationary increase that had taken no account of the increase in pupils.

And he said: “What sort of education system do we have when the fact that most schools are not immediately facing bankruptcy is something to be proud of - while what is happening is schools are being decimated?”

Fellow Lib Dem councillor Anthony Rowlands said finances school finances were now on a “knife edge”.

And he said: “Schools are in crisis and I think the least we can do as their county council is to give them whole-hearted - and not qualified - support.”

Council leader Cllr David Williams has been told by councillors write to the Secretary of State for Education expressing concern at the effect real-terms funding reductions are having on schools.