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What parents and carers think about the cost of the school day

16 Aug 2016 | Barbara Adzajlic

One year on from the Cost of the School Day report a new piece of research has shown that many of the issues highlighted previously are still causing problems for Glasgow families. The new Cost of the School Day – Parent and Carer Consultation report further shows that parents and carers largely agree with the findings of the original report, which was based on work carried out with children and teachers. 

Fifty-six parents and carers were interviewed through a series of focus groups that took place in North East Glasgow from April to May 2016. Using a participatory appraisal approach they were asked to identify which aspects of the school day they felt were the most costly, and how they felt about this. 

School uniform

Unsurprisingly, the cost of school uniform generated a lot of discussion. Examples given included a school that holds a contract with a clothing shop where a skirt can cost £45 and a blazer £95; difficulties accessing the ‘school shop’ and the higher cost of the clothing there; and pupils being turned away from the dinner hall, or made to sit out activities if they did not have the full, correct uniform. It was felt the current clothing grant available in Glasgow of £47 was inadequate. 

While most of those who accessed grants said they found the process easy, questions remain over whether this is the case for all – for example for those who fall into poverty during the school year and who do not receive either advice on available grants or support to complete the forms. 

School trips

School trips were another source of difficulty. Parents and carers highlighted peer pressure and the lack of advance knowledge about which trips were coming up over the school year, what the cost would be and what payment options were available. One parent said her family had not been on holiday together for years in order to allow their children to go on school trips with their friends. Others talked of children being left behind when they could not pay for an end-of-term trip. 

This raises questions about the value and purpose of organising trips in which not everyone can participate. In some groups the educational value of ski trips was questioned, and in another, participants questioned whether a trip to New York was really educationally necessary – could at least some of the outcomes be achieved through local visits? Where trips are shown to have real educational value, participants asked whether it is then justifiable to only offer the experience to those who can afford it, as this only serves to widen the attainment gap. 

Among several other topics discussed was the dress-down day, where pupils usually pay up to £1 to wear non-school uniform. These vary from school to school. In one, this was happening every Friday, causing parents to have to buy multiple outfits as well as contributing the £1 fee. 

In this and some of the other cases discussed, it seems that some schools may have fallen into habits over time that have become ingrained so that the school community accept them with little or no comment – but that continually cause at best resentment and at worst hardship and distress. Some of these traditions may have started before the current climate of austerity took hold, and schools may have allowed them to continue and evolve without taking stock of rising poverty within their communities. 

Families on low incomes

One theme that emerged continually was the situation for families on low incomes – not in receipt of benefits but still struggling to meet the costs of daily life. For these families there are no clothing grants, free school meals or discounts for school trips. These parents were aware of other families that consistently did not pay for dress-down day or class trips but continued to pay for them themselves along with the families that really could afford them. They felt there was no recognition of their struggle and that there was no support for them. 

Although the research highlights a lot of problems, there were also many examples of actions that schools take to mitigate these. Fundraising by the school or parent council (as long as this is done in ways that do not put further pressure on families); free ties for P1 and S1 pupils and “good-as-new” sales were among those mentioned. 

The report contains recommendations for schools, local authorities and parent councils. Along with teacher training and awareness and resources for parent councils (currently being developed by the Cost of the School Day project), it is hoped that the report and its recommendations will be helpful in highlighting the cost pressures faced by families in relation to the school day and how schools, parents/carers and communities can take action to address these.

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