Tuesday, 14 September 2010

'Free' State Education

I would firstly like to say that all the opinions expressed in this post are my own and are not the lovely Emma's, who has very kindly asked me to guest post for her.

With 4 young children to raise, and a desire to be a stay at home mother (I really don't see the point in having to work to pay somebody else to take care of my children) the onus really is on my other half to provide for his family. And at this point, I should mention, that this was a joint decision, and one that we both feel very strongly about. (AND my OH does a fantastic job of providing, by the way!)

Having said this, money, as I'm sure you can imagine is still tight! We have recently given up the car in a bid to be more economical, plus the extra exercise won't do us any harm either..

My eldest two daughters, aged 6 and 5 and in full time state education. Their school is lovely. It's in our village and only holds around 200 children in total which includes their on site Nursery, which my 3 year old daughter is due to start this very month.

When the children started school, I, of course, expected to pay for certain things:

School uniform; Obviously, and all that goes with this, shoes, PE kids, plimsolls etc..
School trips; Entrance and transport, naturally.
School photos; A must, right?!

These were my expectations. In hindsight, maybe that was naive of me?

In reality however, the amount of letters that come home via my daughters' book bags is vast!

Wellington boots have to be left on the school premises, in locked cupboards for impromptu walks through the wooded area across the road. (OK, I can live with that, but it still means buying each of my school aged children 2 sets of wellies)

Trainers. Now this one I have a slight problem with. Despite each child having plimsolls readily available in their PE bags, the children also have to have proper trainers to enable them to play on the playground equipment at break times. At the risk of sounding, pathetically old before my time, when I was at school (back in the good old days!) we never needed any 'special' types of shoes to play on the climbing frames or in the sand pit, we just used the shoes we came to school in or (if needed) our PE shoes.
So once again, this added bit of 'uniform' is costing me twice. Two sets of trainers for each school aged child.
(Yes, I could bring them home each day, thus not having to buy another set, but should I forget to take the bloody things back in the following day the children are not allowed to play on the equipment, and before you ask, the school does not call me to ask me to bring them in. This leads to much moaning and sobbing from my children. AND yes I could or should be more organised, but I have 4 children aged between 6years and 10months to get out of the house by 8.30am and I'm human, I forget stuff!)

Swimming costume, towels, goggles and swim hat for the 6 year old. This is fine. What I didn't expect, however, is to have to pay for my child to swim in another local schools pool. Again this may have been a little naive of me, but my mother certainly didn't have to pay for me or any of my siblings in any of our schools over the years to have swimming lessons. And upon reading the letter (given to my daughter on only her second day back after the holidays, asking for £60) it seems that all previous years up until now (just my luck) have had these swimming sessions funded!
Oh and on top of this, they also expect ME (school bus will bring them back to school, but not take them to the pool?!) to get the 6year old to swimming lessons every Friday morning at another school AT THE SAME TIME as the 5 year old is meant to be dropped off in her class room! (The schools, although both in the local area are a good 15-20 minutes walk apart) I'm no Harry Potter and do not possess the skill to 'disapparate' between two locations in a split second, especially with 3 kids in tow..

Recorder lessons are due to start for the 6year old also, but again I do not have a problem with purchasing said musical item for this.

So as you can see the 'Free' education for my children is starting to get quite expensive!

The 3 year old is going to need just under £10 a term for snack money and Wellies, for 'Wellie Wednesday', of course..and trainers for 'Trainer Tuesday' duh, why didn't I think of that?!

Then there are the endless (and I really do mean endless) sponsored/charity events.
Dress down days, having to pay £1 each (even in the Nursery where the uniform isn't actually compulsory!) Book days again £1 each, sponsored wheelie events, school BBQ's, cake days, I could go on.. It all adds up, and while I don't wish to sound cruel or uncharitable (I do my bit for charity) it beggars belief the amount of money this school is always asking for.

The school itself, or rather it's 'Friends Committee' have registered themselves as a local charity and thus quite a few of these fund raisers / charity events are for them.

That brings me to my favourite kind of school begging letter. The 'Voluntary' Contribution.
School trips, swimming lessons, random 'so-called' educational events, among others, all come under this 'voluntary' umbrella.

If you cannot afford, or worse still, chose not to pay this 'voluntary' sum, you are requested to make an appointment with the headteacher to discuss your reasons why.

voluntary [ˈvɒləntərɪ -trɪ]
Performed, undertaken, or brought about by free choice, willingly, or without being asked a voluntary donation

If you fail to make this appointment with the head, she will for want of a better word, harass you for payment, by sending out a couple of reminders, before a personally addressed letter, advising you that you have 'forgotten' to pay the amount in question (nothing like a bit of peer pressure, is there?)

This, and maybe this is just me (and I'll accept it, if it is!) is a practise that I think has no place in a first school, or any kind of state run school for that matter. I, personally find it horrendously rude.

And finally (well I hope so anyway, because just writing this is making me sweat at the thought of bankruptcy) are the 'miscellaneous' bits and bobs that are thrust upon you when you least expect it. For example, mugs and bags.

Each child is provided with a piece of paper to draw a picture on. Nothing unusual there, right? Wrong!
They are given this sheet of paper to create a masterpiece that will be printed onto a mug/bag, with a "Won't that be a great present for your Mummy and Daddy and your Grandparents will be so proud to own a mug/bag that you have made"

Only after your child/ren have poured all of their little creative streaks onto this page do they send you home a letter informing you of the said activity and you will have to pay a set sum for each of these things.

And while yes, they can be a lovely little present for Nanny and Grandad etc, you are now faced with the prospect of paying out £5+ for a plain white 50p mug with your 3 year olds scribble on because they have their little hearts set on presenting the aforementioned present next time they go for a visit, it's difficult to say no. And then if you buy one you have to buy all of your children's efforts, thus leaving Mummy and Daddy contemplating a second mortgage.

I love my village and I do like the school. The teachers, on the whole, are good and the Ofstead reports are always outstanding. My children, as am I, are very settled there with lots of good friends. And I know I didn't have to have 4 children. And I know that I don't have to be a stay at home mum, but was it really unreasonable of me to think that a 'free' state education was really free? Or should I have expected all of these little added extras attatched to their school years? Remembering that this school is primarily a school for 3 to 7 year olds, what more is there to come from the middle and high schools?

Maybe this is a sign of the times? But if it is, why the hell haven't wages moved with them?

If the government and schools expect us parents to foot the bills for all of these extra things, which are not strictly needed to educate our children, why aren't they consulting us first, to see what, and more importantly, how much we are willing to pay for things?
I accept that this post is only aimed at my experience with this particular school, and this will not be every ones experience with schools their children attend. I also accept that while I (and many others at my daughters' school) feel that we are having to constantly delve deep into our pockets and rifle under the sofa cushions to keep up with this schools relentless money demands, it is also their attitude about requesting money that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Is your child's school like this? Am I particularly unlucky in my experiences with this great, yet seemingly money grabbing primary?

Kerry from Life Through A Sippy Cup