Parents pay for teachers

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The Independent Online
PARENTS at Wyborne Primary School in Greenwich, south London, have just raised pounds 9,000 in two weeks to pay the salaries of two part-time teachers faced with redundancy because of budget cuts.

The parents thought first of remortgaging their houses to raise the money, but had to drop the idea when they discovered they needed to put cash in the bank in a matter of days to save the teachers' jobs. Instead, about 80 parents agreed to pledge sums ranging from pounds 25 to pounds 250.

Not far away, in a less prosperous part of Greenwich, Abbey Wood Comprehensive is also facing staff cuts because of a pounds 125,000 budget deficit. One part-time teacher is being made compulsorily redundant, a full-

time teacher is to become part-

time, and two staff are not being replaced at the 850-pupil school, which serves a large housing estate.

But Irene Perrin, the head, says there is no question of parents paying for teachers' salaries. 'Quite apart from the principle involved, that education is a fundamental right and parents should not pay for essentials, in this kind of area it is not a practical possibility. People don't have the money.'

The amount of money raised by parents to pay for anything from library books to teachers has been rising steadily. A survey of 2,000 schools by the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations last year found that parents were raising around pounds 55m a year.

Anne Mountfield, of the Directory of Social Change, who has researched parental fund-raising, estimates that the true figure is probably nearer pounds 80m.

A National Foundation of Educational Research study published in 1990 showed that 13 per cent of primary schools received more money for books and equipment from parents than they received from the state, and 13 per cent levied what they called 'a voluntary fixed amount' in parental donations. Jack Straw, Labour's education spokesman, described the donations as 'fees in all but name'.

Since then, some groups of parents have gone further. Car- boot sales and raffles are now paying for teachers' salaries. At least three schools have said publicly that parents have raised funds to save teachers' jobs and others have announced that they are asking parents for a donation of between pounds 30 and pounds 40 a year so that they can balance their books.

Mrs Mountfield says more and more parents are faced with ethical problems that go to the heart of their beliefs about how education should be run.

As Richard Lewis, who is running the parents' campaign to pay for teachers at Wyborne school, puts it: 'Of course we had a lot of qualms. We don't believe parents should pay teachers' salaries. That is why we are only doing it for one year and we intend to pay back all the parents from fundraising. We know there are schools where parents cannot afford to do this and we hope to start a national campaign to get more funds for education.'

He said that parents at the school had had to take a pragmatic view. They believed the two teachers destined for redundancy, who were helping with the introduction of the national curriculum, were vital to their children's education.

Abbey Wood's governors take a different view. Mrs Perrin says they were not even prepared to agree to charging for instrumental music tuition. 'As a result, we are losing three peripatetic music teachers and there will be less music tuition, but there is a very strong feeling that this is a part of the curriculum to which children are entitled.'

Greenwich council, which has been capped, argues that the Government's estimate of what it needs to spend underestimates the deprivation in the borough. It also says that both Abbey Wood and Wyborne find themselves in difficulties partly because of the way in which money is allocated under the Government's policy of delegating budgeting to schools and funding them according to the number of pupils. The money each school receives to pay teachers is based on average salaries rather than the actual salaries of its teachers. Schools with long-serving and better-paid teachers are penalised.

Mrs Mountfield says the whole policy of delegating budgets has contributed to a marked change in both the nature and scale of parental fund-raising over the past few years. Whereas parents used to see parental jumble sales as a way of paying for a computer, in the new competitive atmosphere they increasingly see fund-raising as a way of bringing a school up to scratch.

'Parents feel more responsible for their schools and are beginning to feel they can solve schools' problems by fund-raising. It becomes worrying when people feel they have to do it.'

The other problem, says Mrs Mountfield, who is producing a guidebook for fund-raising parents, is that groups which are raising ever larger sums of money need to be accountable to someone.

Members of the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations went to see Eric Forth, the schools minister, about funding two weeks ago. He told them that if schools were short of money to pay teachers and buy books that must be the result of mismanagement by governors or local authorities.

Margaret Morrissey, the Confederation's press officer, says: 'It was quite disgusting - it is not good enough that we have to raise teachers' wages through car-boot sales. We cannot guarantee to pay them in that way every week of the term.'

(Photograph omitted)