A primary school has been accused of segregating children in the playground based on whether or not their parents had contributed towards the cost of sports equipment.
Those whose parents had paid for the footballs, skipping ropes and other items were allowed to play with them at lunchtimes, while those whose parents had not were excluded from the games organised by a member of staff.
Parents launched a petition online, accusing the headteacher of Wednesbury Oak Academy primary school in the West Midlands of separating the children, who are aged from three to 11 years old, into “paid “ and “unpaid” pupils.
“This has caused outright disgust from children, parents, grandparents, staff and suchlike,” the petition read. “The parents that have paid and parents that haven’t are totally against the separation of the children as this can cause upset, bullying and social exclusion among other things.”
After coming under pressure, the school’s governors quickly scrapped the system. “We have listened to the concerns raised and will be ending the scheme with immediate effect. We are a school that believes in putting our children at the heart of everything we do,” said Elizabeth Perrin, the chair of the school governors.
The petition explained that parents and teachers had discussed ways of funding the purchase of equipment for a “fun-time lunchtime play equipment bag” at the school, which is about 2.5 miles north of Dudley, in Sandwell.
Various ideas were rejected in favour of asking for a voluntary £6 contribution, said the blurb on the campaigning site, Change.org. But when the children returned after the Christmas holidays, they found a policy of separation had been put in place.
The Labour MP for West Bromwich West, Adrian Bailey, blamed government cuts that had left schools in the area “facing financial crisis”.
He said: “Schools should not be put in a position where they are forced to approach parents for contributions for equipment that would usually be paid for using the school’s mainstream budget.
“Inevitably, this results in some parents being unable to contribute. This is especially true in a lower income area like Sandwell, leading to a culture of social division and resentment, impacting on the ability of pupils to learn.
“All children should have equal access to education, including to equipment and facilities. This case is just one example of the consequences of government cuts to school funding.”
The school’s headteacher, Maria Bull, defended the scheme, saying none of the parents were unable to afford the £6 contribution. According to the school’s Ofsted report, which grades it as outstanding, “a far higher proportion of pupils than average attract the pupil premium”, which is paid for pupils eligible for free school meals and those in the care of the local authority.
Bull told the Daily Mirror she had received threats since the scheme was implemented. “Parents have behaved in a highly threatening manner on Facebook, telling me ‘I need a good slapping’,” she said.
“This is not the way to behave. We have systems in place where parents can come and address their concerns. I am on the verge of calling the police.”
According to the paper, pupils were occasionally allowed to invite a friend whose parents had not paid to play with the sports equipment.
“Schools get an awful lot of bad press for doing things that benefit the children. We are asking for just £6 a year,” she reportedly said. “I wouldn’t ask parents to pay for another child’s after-school club. Parents threatening staff, the headteacher, it’s unacceptable. This is cyber bulling of a school.”