One of the hot topics at the school gate recently has been the increasing cost of school trips. This is in addition to all the extra pounds here and there for enterprise days, book fairs, and bake sales. Then there are the requests for dried food and tins for events such as Harvest Festival which are contributed to our local food bank, and money to support various PTA activities.
This is, of course, without TV charity days (Red Nose Day, Sports Relief) and the number of costumes required, it seems, every time a new topic on the curriculum is started.
I don’t begrudge paying for these things. It would be naive to ignore the effect that economic policy has had on the Education Sector. And, it seems to me that contributing what we can benefits all of the pupils, not just our own kids.
In terms of school trips, though, who pays for what seems to be rather hazy. This is governed by Sections 449-462 of the Education Act 1996 which deal with the law on “charging for school activities”.
For example, schools are able to charge parents a fee for board and lodging for school residential trips, but they can’t charge for activities that take place during school hours – although they can ask for voluntary contributions.
Even though our children benefit from a free education, the costs seem to be rapidly increasing.
There are uniforms, travel expenses and lunches to be paid for before you even start to think about school trips.
And what about leavers’ discos or, worse, the trend imported from our US cousins – the prom?
The cost of your child’s school education could run into thousands, rather than hundreds of pounds.
But with some of the upcoming secondary school trips including skiing and a trip to Washington DC, I have to ask whether these are academic trips or school jollies?
It seems that some of these chosen destinations may well unfairly exclude pupils from low-income families, although there may be financial help available for some school-related costs in certain circumstances.
One issue is that parents are not given enough notice to budget and save in order to cover the costs. Luckily we were able to pay for Caitlin’s forthcoming outward bound 2-day adventure in stage payments but, even then, that was over just a few months.
One option may be a short term loan from a reputable company like Cashlady.com. Otherwise, creating a household budget and monitoring your occasional spending would seem the most sensible approach – however hard it may be to give up that morning takeaway coffee.
If you receive email updates from the school via Parentmail and are guilty of forgetting to open them (oops!), now is the time to start opening them when they come in – especially as we head towards the summer term. Events are often announced at the start of the school term. Forewarned is forearmed as they say!
Another idea is to get your hands on a family home organiser (you can find lots which allocate space for more than one family member) and diarize all the events and trips well in advance so that you start saving before the payment requests come through.
Lastly, I think it’s important not to feel guilty if you just can’t afford to send your child sailing up the Danube or hiking across Dartmoor.
Perhaps by standing your ground and saying “actually that’s too expensive” you may allow other families to speak up and challenge the school to rethink the trip’s duration, destination or even the validity of going in the first place.