More than 1,000 schools across England are turning to crowdfunding websites and wish lists to raise money, with many appealing for basic supplies such as pencils, glue and textbooks.
A Guardian investigation has revealed the extent to which schools across the country are turning to online fundraising in the teeth of government budget cuts, with 700 crowdsourcing donations made through websites such as JustGiving and Crowdfunder, and 300 schools using Amazon wish lists.
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The schools range from large secondaries and elite grammar schools to small primary schools and special needs schools, all of which have received financial support from four crowdfunding websites since 2017 and can be identified as state schools in England.
“The fact so many schools are doing this should be ringing serious alarm bells for the government,” said Paul Whiteman, the National Association of Head Teachers general secretary.
While a significant part of the activity includes traditional parent teacher association (PTA) fundraising efforts for new playgrounds or sports facilities, many explicitly mention the effects of government funding cuts in their appeals to supporters. The pages have been set up by schools, teachers, parents, PTAs and even students.
One school, Lainesmead primary school in Swindon, is seeking funds to buy equipment it cannot afford. “Unfortunately, due to government budget cuts, last year we lost £80,000 and had to make several redundancies. Our dire financial situation has continued this year and we are having to make further cutbacks,” the school says on its JustGiving page.
In another case, a teacher in Harrogate, Stephen Morland, has pledged to run 1,000 miles over 200 days to raise funds through a JustGiving page for maths and music provision at his school, Grove Road community primary.
“The school at which I teach, Grove Road, does a great job of managing its budget to provide the core things we need, but there is so much more that we as teachers often require to enrich our children’s education,” Morland said.
“We’re not a well-off school and, unlike many in the Harrogate area, we can’t rely on a stream of extra income from our families, with many of our children from disadvantaged backgrounds or single-parent homes.”
Chris Parkhouse, Grove Road’s headteacher, said Morland was “an inspiration for all of us”. The fundraising effort has so far raised more than £600.
Parkhouse said his school had used a wide range of fundraising activities, including a 24-hour sponsored “bounce-athon”, to help refurbish the early years playground, and to enhance its status as an inclusive, diverse school with high percentages of pupils with special needs and for whom English is an additional language.
Based on their Amazon wish lists, a number of state schools in England are seeking help to fund basic supplies, including St Wilfrid’s Catholic primary school in Angmering, West Sussex, asking parents and supporters for boxes of HB pencils, notebooks, glue sticks, dictionaries and other teaching supplies.
St Wilfrid’s Catholic primary school’s Amazon wishlist. Photograph: Screengrab/Amazon
St Wilfrid’s was one of about 100 schools asking for essential stationery items on Amazon, while more than 10 schools requested cleaning products such as vacuum bags, soap and latex gloves.
Judith Donovan, the headteacher of Gibside special school in Gateshead, said using wish lists had been popular with parents as a way of directly funding items the school needed rather than simply making donations.
“If we weren’t able to fundraise like this I don’t think we would be able to survive and the children wouldn’t get as good a deal,” said Donovan, who said he was proud of previous fundraising efforts that equipped a sensory room for pupils with profound special needs, including some who use wheelchairs.
St Elizabeth’s primary school in Tower Hamlets crowdfunding new laptops. Photograph: JustGiving
Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, said it was a disgrace that schools were forced to plead for funds online and in begging letters sent home with pupils to pay for basics such as books and pencils.
“The government should be utterly ashamed. Austerity is a political choice and a whole generation of children are paying the price,” Rayner said. “The prime minister needs to face up to the crisis her government has created in our schools instead of trotting out discredited and misleading statistics about school funding that prove just how out of touch they are.”
Ben Gill, the project lead at Rocket Fund, a specialist crowdfunding service, said: “Schools have always been involved in fundraising. Private schools even have dedicated fundraising teams.
“Crowdfunding is a way to boost budgets by modernising their existing fundraising techniques. We think state schools are missing out on over £100m of untapped support from alumni and potentially even more from businesses.”
The reliance on fundraising sheds new light on the extent of the school funding crisis, after the Guardian last month reported cases of schools scrapping subjects, reducing teaching hours and asking teachers to take on cleaning duties.
Schools say they have been forced to seek additional funding after a string of cuts and cost increases, both to their own budgets and those of their local authorities. The school cuts coalition – which includes several major teaching unions – calculates that state schools in England have had their funding cut by £5bn since 2015-16.
Last week the Department for Education’s head of funding admitted school budgets would be even tighter next year, and schools faced “real pressures” to make ends meet. It has been revealed that the DfE’s cost-cutting experts have advised schools to pinch pennies in Victorian fashion by keeping money raised for outside charities and reducing the size of lunch portions.
The DfE has defended the government’s track record and claims funding is at record levels. But Damian Hinds, the education secretary, has pledged to win new funding in a long-term deal with the Treasury before this year’s comprehensive spending review.
“Everyone now accepts that the Treasury need to step in with new money. Everyone except the Treasury, it seems,” Whiteman said.
Schools are expected to also be competing with higher education for the DfE’s budget, with the government expected to cut undergraduate fees and pay out more top-up funds to universities in compensation.
What’s on school wish lists
Around 100 schools requested stationery items on Amazon wish lists. Bearwood primary school in Wokingham asked parents to buy whiteboard pens, pencils, paper, rubbers and plastic wallets.
Significant numbers of schools have crowdfunded new IT equipment. St Elizabeth’s primary school in east London wrote a post from the perspective of its students. “Our computers are broken and they take ages to come on! We really need some new laptops to use in class.”
Special educational needs
A number of schools asked for donations to support children with special educational needs. These ranged from toys designed for children with autism to specially adapted minibuses and hydrotherapy pools. In an appeal for toys for Samuel Pepys school in Cambridgeshire, one mother wrote: “Toys are expensive, but toys for children with special needs the price doubles! Updating and improving the children’s toys is absolutely essential in helping them develop.”
More than 10 schools listed cleaning products on their Amazon wish lists. Low Moor C of E primary school in Bradford asked parents to buy a bin, rubber gloves and vacuum bags.
Hollingworth primary school in Greater Manchester was one of a handful of schools that set up pages for crossing attendants and other road safety measures. “Due to the current financial climate, Hollingworth primary school is in danger of losing their school crossing patrol service,” the JustGiving page reads. “The school is situated on the A628 which is one of the country’s busiest roads.”
Additional reporting by Anisa Holmes and Leia Reid