Gina Davidson: Parents’ cash is not the answer

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SOME time ago there was a discussion at my child’s school parent council about there being too few teachers compared with the increasing school roll.

The dilemma, no doubt familiar at many schools, was that the new primary one intake would be forced into two large classes of 30 pupils or more – against the local authority’s policy – or classes further up the school would have to be made composite, so a teacher could be released to the infant school.

There was a suggestion that perhaps we should follow the lead set by new English “free” schools with parents employing a new teacher directly. Fundraising would have to be carried out to cover the salary, but there was a genuine belief by some that this could, and should, be done.

It wasn’t of course. But the whole idea came back to me this week when the actions of parents at St Mary’s Primary in Broughton were being lauded because they’d raised £25,000 in three years to pay for an all-weather pitch surface so the pupils could reach a target of two hours of physical education every week.

On the face of it such hard work and dedication by parents is to be cheered. And at a time when everyone’s budgets are cut to the bone, it’s astounding that they’ve managed to raise quite so much.

But for parents, who pay their tax which goes to support state education, to then have to fork out thousands more to ensure that a school meets its government-required standard in a core subject of the national curriculum cannot be right.

Of course in Edinburgh the idea of parents paying for education and great facilities is nothing knew given the number of private educational establishments in the city. But that’s a whole different choice.

What’s happened at St Mary’s is setting a precedent which should not be allowed to continue, and which the education department should be ashamed of rather than crowing about.

Fundraising activities by parents are voluntary, and done to help pay for extras outside the curriculum. It’s not a pot of cash to be raided for text books, pencils, jotters, art supplies, whiteboards or even classroom chairs . . . although that has also already happened in the past few years at Flora Stevenson Primary in Stockbridge, St John’s in Portobello and others.

However, paying for a capital project which upgrades the school facilities is a whole new ball game. Who now will pay for the upkeep of the surface? Who actually owns it? Do the parents control who can use it and when? Or will it be handed over to the council to maintain and manage?

It might well be the case that the parents have come to some arrangement with the council that when it does in the future have the cash to cover the cost of the all-weather pitch, that it will pay the money back to the school fundraising association, be it a parent teacher association or parent council. I doubt it.

What is without doubt though is the wonders worked by parent power, but the council should not rely on it.

Parents should not be expected to provide a basic facility at their children’s school. And given that the council seem to be able to find money tucked away for other projects when they need to, and that the Scottish Government thinks nothing of spending £25,000 on a meeting of economic gurus, then it’s surely not a lot to find for something which, on the cracked tarmac surface of it, should have been resolved long ago.

Checks in the post

SIX people were relieved from their Christmas duties with the Royal Mail after criminal checks discovered that they all had records for illegal activities of one kind or another. Yet this only came to light after they had already started working for them as part of the massive temporary staff hired every year to cover the festive season.

It amazed me that these people had been hired in the first place. Several people I know had applied for the same job only to be overwhelmed by the amount of information that was demanded about their lives before they even got an interview.

Birth certificates, passports, CVs, driving licences, ID photos all had to be produced and photocopied in triplicate. Then there was the massive application form to fill in and it was a game of roulette even to be granted an appointment to hand all the information over.

Yet after jumping through all these hoops, only one landed a job (only to give it up sharpish when she, a lady in her 60s, discovered she had to ask for permission to go to the loo). Yet six people with criminal records did.

I think the Post Office is short-sighted in letting them go. They are obvious masters of obfuscation, the ultimate qualification for working there.

In saying that, I do hope that my Christmas cards get delivered on time. As usual, I’ve left it too late to ensure they get to their intended addresses in good time. So let me take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas.