The British Humanist Association (BHA) recently published research which it claims found that many state funded state schools appear to be in violation of the law around how schools can seek financial donations from parents. The BHA argues that the schools, many of which are in London, pressurised parents into making donations, or did not make it clear when seeking donations that they were voluntary and in no way obligatory, which would be in violation of the law.
Schools are allowed to seek voluntary donations from parents with children studying at the schools, but must make clear that “there is no obligation to make any contribution” and ensure parents are “not pressurised into paying”, to quote the Education Act of 1996.
Regardless of this, some schools in London seem to be very close to the edge of this law. Islington based Mount Carmel Catholic College for Girls’ September 2014 newsletter reads “To support the school in fulfilling its current and future commitments, the Governors ask that every family commit to making a regular contribution to the School Building Fund. There is a minimum contribution of £10 per family per term (£2.50 per month) which, over the year, works out at less than 60p per week, £30.00 per year”. While Mount Carmel did highlight that this fell under a diocese wide “Voluntary Contribution Scheme”, the BHA argues that “asking parents to commit to making a ‘minimum contribution’ suggests otherwise”.
St. Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Kensington and Chelsea wrote its March 2015 newsletter “Parents are asked to contribute £30 per year per child. If you have more than one child we ask for a contribution of £40 per family per year. This payment can be spread over the year at £10.00 each term. We are also happy to accept smaller payment terms by arrangement. Please help to support your child’s school by paying your contribution”, which does not make clear that the contribution is voluntary. The newsletter also said “We … ask every parent who has chosen to send their child to our voluntary aided Catholic school to make a continuation”, which the BHA says is pressurising.
The BHA released its findings in September after schoolsweek.co.uk revealed in March that Westminster based Grey Coat Hospital School had been seeking financial contributions from parents of prospective students. Parents allege that the school, which is where Michael Gove’s daughter s a student and where schoolsweek.co.uk claims that David Cameron had intended to send his daughters, they were asked for a £96 payment when their children were joining Year 7. Grey Coat also requested money from parents in letters sent out to confirm offers of places at the schools. Making requests for financial contributions of any kind as a part of an admissions process is prohibited by the School Admissions Code and Home/School Agreements.