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Church school faces probe in 'cash for lessons' row

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 18, 2011

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A Church of England school is under investigation for wrongly requesting cash for lessons amid claims that children as young as eight were pressured into making parents pay.

Governors at St Petroc's primary school in Bodmin are investigating a complaint that letters sent out asking for money for state-funded swimming lessons breach the Education Act.

Parents have contacted the Western Morning News claiming that teachers at the voluntary-aided school have told children that they "must" bring in the weekly charge of £3.50 or they will not be allowed to swim.

One mother, who asked not to be named, said she had been forced to make an official complaint to the local education authority, Cornwall Council, to get a refund when her daughter was ill.

She said: "My daughter becomes extremely upset if I do not make the 'voluntary' payment – when I ask why she tells me that she will get told off.

"I abhor this type of emotional blackmail and threatening behaviour towards young children."

The Education Act stipulates that under the national curriculum for physical education children must be taught how to swim for 25m by the age of 11.

The Department for Education (DfE) said schools shouldn't be charging its pupils for swimming lessons.

A DfE spokesman, who was shown a letter from St Petroc's, added: "If the school does ask for payment it needs to make clear that it is a voluntary contribution – and that children will not be stopped from attending swimming lessons if payment has not been made.

"It appears, in this case, that the school has not made it clear to parents that any contribution towards the costs of the swimming provision is voluntary."

The parent who made the complaint is asking head teacher Stuart Renshaw to offer to reimburse parents as much as five years' worth of contributions.

The father, who also asked to remain anonymous, says he knows personally of eight parents who were unhappy with the requests.

He also claims Mr Renshaw told him in a face-to-face meeting that he needed funds to buy iPad computers for the school.

The parent added: "I hope that the school immediately stops involving the children in the request for any money – it is unfair for a child to feel the odd one out because they have no money to hand over to the teacher.

Mr Renshaw, who sent out the letters, has refused to comment while the matter is being investigated.

Sue Green, director of education at the Diocese of Truro, said she had "absolute faith" in the board of governors to make sure requests are "more clearly communicated in future".

Mrs Green, a former head teacher who oversees the church-funded schools in Cornwall, said schools should have a "charging policy" which is laid out to parents.

She said many schools wanted to offer more than the basic provision, adding: "I don't know of a school that doesn't ask for voluntary payments for swimming to offer more than the statutory requirement."

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  • samoyeds  |  November 20 2011, 1:27PM

    All day trips cost money, schools state how much it is or they ask for a voluntary contribution of xxxx amount of pounds, of 30 odd children in a class only about 8 children pay the voluntary contribution and the trip still goes ahead and the ones that do not contribute still go on the trip. Who are the fools, obviously the ones that pay. The ones that do not contribute get a trip that is free to them as the parents have not contributed. You always find the ones that pay are the parents that have jobs. The ones on benefits feel they shouldnt have to pay, its the ones on benefits that are better off financially than the workers in paid employment.

  • kingofkernow  |  November 18 2011, 6:48PM

    Both our children went to this school and we used to get the same letters. They were worded such that it was a "voluntary" contribution towards transport to the pool. It would go on to say that if people didn't pay then the lessons "may" not take place. Those parents that didn't pay were the ones who keep DWP, Wetherspoons, National Lottery and Tobaccanists in business !!!

  • kimmyp  |  November 18 2011, 2:22PM

    Its not just swimmimg either, every school trip costs money and you do feel pressured to pay with wording in letters and children told that trips won't go ahead if they can't get enough "donations". Last year it cost me well over £1'000, camping trip for year six and a Paris trip for a year eight, my fault in some respect because most of the children were going i did not want mine to "miss out" and it looks likely to be the same this year. but the day trips some of which are supposed to be part of the curriculum you still pay for. I'm not suggesting for one minute that the tax payer should pay more but surely if it's part of the curriculum then it should be state funded and if this cannot be afforded then don't include it. I know its nice for the kids and teachers to get out of school but thats just it, nice but not wholly essential?

  • JAM1989  |  November 18 2011, 1:09PM

    This happened at my school (a church of england one). You were asked for a 'donation' of a certain amount and if u didnt bring it in you were not allowed to swim.