Friday. 22 August 2014

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Academy prepares to charge for lessons in national curriculum

Teachers’ leaders warn: schools will use fees to select pupils from privileged backgrounds

We are staring in the face the potential for pupils and parents to be selected by schools on the ability to pay

Chris Keates, general secretary, NASUWT

Plans to charge for some lessons that are part of the national curriculum have been uncovered by Exaro at an academy school in West Yorkshire.

The academy is believed to be the first to adopt a charging policy that allows it to impose fees for “activities” in core subjects such as English, maths and science.

The school, Gawthorpe Community Academy in Ossett, West Yorkshire, says that it “hopes” not to make the charges, but wanted the “flexibility” to be able to do so.

The NASUWT, or the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, was “astonished” by the disclosure, predicting that it would create an effective “apartheid” between children from rich and poor families.

Chris Keates, the union’s general secretary, warned that other academies and free schools were also gearing up to charge for lessons that are not on the core curriculum. Academies, she said, are set to use charging to select pupils from privileged backgrounds.

Gawthorpe Community Academy, an over-subscribed primary school, says in its charging policy that it “may make a charge” for activities that are “an essential part of the national curriculum” in certain circumstances.

These include activities “during lunch hours” or provided by a “non-academy organisation employed during academy hours.” Such organisations could include companies brought in to teach activities, for example, holding a science week.

The policy also states that the academy will charge for teaching costs for activities that are “not an essential part of the national curriculum” and take place “mainly” outside school hours.

The school’s head teacher, Sue Vickerman, said: “I do not anticipate having to charge in the future,” but added, “I think that it is maybe a fail-safe... We would hope that we would not have to charge.”

Karen Josse, the school’s business manager, said: “It is just to cover all possible eventualities,” adding, “That gives us the flexibility.”

But the policy alarmed Darren Northcott, national officer for education at the NASUWT, who said: “This is the first time that I have seen a school say that we can charge you for activities that take place during lunch breaks. There are huge implications.

“Will there be one part of the school where those children who have paid go and do the activity, and children whose parents have not paid are in another? There will, in effect, be some sort of apartheid within the school.”

The academy’s policy contradicts the Department for Education’s guidance on when the law allows schools to charge.

In a section about charging for activities partly during school hours, the guidance says: “A charge can only be made for the activity outside school hours if it is not part of the national curriculum.” Lunch breaks are treated as outside of school hours.

Although the guidance is for schools controlled by local authorities, academies are expected to reflect it in their funding agreements with the education secretary.

Northcott argues that no one holds academies and free schools to account, saying: “Essentially, there is not sufficient regulation and oversight to stop them charging. They are not breaking statutory law because it does not apply to them.”

The union’s Chris Keates was already worried that academies would reclassify subjects such as art, drama and music as “optional extras” not on the core curriculum and charge for them.

She said that all schools can charge for subjects not on the core curriculum. But only academies and free schools have the right to decide which subjects – aside from English, maths, science and religious education – count as part of the core curriculum, she explained.

“An academy can say, ‘Our core curriculum is English, maths, science, modern languages, and one for the humanities. Everything else is outside the core curriculum.’ In theory, by law now, they can charge for it.”

“We are staring in the face the potential for pupils and parents to be selected by schools on the ability to pay.”

“All a school has to do is put out a prospectus saying that our uniform is £400, we charge ‘x’ for the school meals,” adding, “They can charge whatever they like.”

Exaro has identified charging policies for several academies that allow fees for “optional extras” taking place “mainly” outside school hours.

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