Academy under fire over ‘lunch activity charges’

Plans to charge for some lessons that are part of the national curriculum have been uncovered.
Plans to charge for some lessons that are part of the national curriculum have been uncovered.
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A YORKSHIRE school has come under fire from a teaching union for suggesting pupils could be charged for activities related to their studies and lunchtime clubs.

Gawthorpe Community Academy insisted its charging policy was designed to give it “flexibility” to meet the needs of its students and would not disadvantage poorer pupils.

But the NASUWT teaching union warned the school’s approach, highlighted by Exaro, the investigative website, www.exaronews.com, could create “apartheid within the school”.

The policy makes it possible for the school to charge for activities that are “an essential part of the national curriculum” in certain circumstances.

It also suggests the school could charge for activities taking place “mainly” outside school hours.

School business manager Karen Josse said having a policy on charges was a condition of its academy status and the law permitted the school to charge for items such as board and lodgings on field trips.

“We would never charge for any activities that are part of the curriculum,” she said.

“When we drafted this policy we wanted it to have the flexibility to meet the demand from pupils if, for example, they wanted a karate club that they couldn’t access after school hours.

“If we consulted pupils, and mum and dad were happy to pay, we wanted the policy to have the flexibility to do that.

“We are located in a pocket of disadvantage. We have 42 children eligible for school meals and that is always at the forefront of the minds of the governing body.

“The only activities we deliver on a lunchtime, the academy funds.”

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

In a section about charging for activities partly during school hours, guidance from the Department for Education 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 such as Gawthorpe – which are given greater freedoms to manage their own affairs by the Government – are expected to reflect it in their funding agreements with the Education Secretary.

Darren Northcott, national officer for education at the NASUWT, 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.

“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.”

Anti-academy campaigners have argued the system allows schools outside local authority control to classify subjects such as English, maths and science as the “core curriculum” while labelling areas such as art and music as ‘extras’.

By raising the possibility of charging for subjects outside the core curriculum, schools could effectively start selecting pupils by their ability to pay.

Previously known as Gawthorpe Community Primary, the school was transformed into an academy in 2011. When the school was last inspected four years ago it was described by Ofsted inspectors as “outstanding”.

Academies in other parts of the country have previously come under the spotlight for allowing fees for “optional extras” taking place “mainly” outside school hours.