School staff are having to foot the bill for a crisis of the government's making.
Nearly all school staff in England are now paying for school materials with their own money, according to a survey of nearly 2,000 education workers.
The study by the National Education Union shows that 94% paid for classroom resources or equipment out of their own pockets in the last school year, while a third say they spent more last year than in previous years.
Nearly three quarters are buying stationary for pupils, 58% books, and 57% items for displays, while many are purchasing arts materials and even IT equipment.
The personal experiences in revealed in the survey show the dire state of school education – a crisis that is going unnoticed.
One Head of English in a south coast secondary school, experiencing big cuts, said:
“We are being asked to pay for paper towels to dry hands and wipe up spillages. We are also increasingly bringing in our own computers as there is no money to update the aged machines in the school.
“We look back with nostalgia on the days when the school provided tea, coffee and even food before parents’ evenings and when we had cutting edge technology in our classrooms.”
And this from a head of department in a secondary school:
“I buy the green pens, board cloths and plastic wallets for the department as we don’t have enough money in the budget.
“I have had to buy food for students staying for coursework and revision sessions and equipment for activities days.”
The reason for all this is clear: 62% say there are ‘not enough funds’. Schools are cutting back even on essentials, leaving teachers and parents to pick up the slack.
In February the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that school funding per pupil is being cut for the first time since the 1990s.
The result is a reliance on often low-paid staff to foot the bill – not the basis of an equal and effective school system. Take one primary school teacher:
“There is a constant shortage and rationing of paper and laminating sheets and it’s just simpler to buy your own than fight for basics. Our school has no money, so there’s no point asking for reimbursement for displays or classroom expenditure.”
It’s not just teachers paying for equipment – schools are now asking parents for money, too, with 39% saying headteachers are going cap in hand for donations.
A member of the leadership team in a primary school said:
“Previously we have not asked parents for donations to supplement school funding but we will be this year. I think we are asking for a donation of £5 per family each term.”
School trips are an easy target, too:
“The school couldn’t subsidise school trips so parents were asked to pay. It was made clear that they should be paying even though the fact that it is voluntary was mentioned, it was not emphasised enough.”
93% of schools are having their funding cut, according to unions, with an average of £370,000 being chopped off secondary schools and £87,000 to primary schools.
The result is an education system crumbling – with school staff trying to save what they can amidst the rubble.
This is a hidden crisis, but one that needs addressing urgently before school staff quit the profession altogether.
Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.