FULL STORY: Primary school in ‘Smarties tube’ fundraising row

Asquith Primary School. (D511B403)
Asquith Primary School. (D511B403)

A primary school has defended its fundraising policy after asking parents to fill a Smarties tube up with £10 worth of 20p coins and donate it to the school.

Pupils at Asquith Primary were sent home for the Easter holidays with a tube of the sweets as a seasonal treat, but were accompanied with the school’s newsletter making the request to help towards the cost of new playground equipment.

The letter says: “We are asking children to fill the tubes with 20p coins during the Easter holiday and bring them back to school before April 20. A full tube will hold £10. Please seal the tube up and write your child’s name on it before you send it back to school.

“If this activity is well supported we have the opportunity to raise £3,000 to help improve playtimes for children - please help!”

The letter caused consternation among a handful of parents, one of whom accused the school of “charging for education.”

One mother, whose youngest child attends the school, but wished to remain anonymous said: “I feel incensed.

“I’ve absolutely nothing against school fundraising but it should be done on an opt-in basis. If you don’t want to go to the school fair or by a raffle ticket you don’t have to.

“It makes you feel uncomfortable because you don’t want it to be your child that doesn’t take in the £10. I’m a single mum, I’ve got two kids and I work and we get by but I know that there’s families who don’t work who won’t be able to afford this.

“I feel as a parent I’m being exploited and I just think it’s wrong. It’s like they’re charging for education.”

Another parent, who also did not want to be identified, said: “It seems to be every month they’re asking for money now. There will be many who will struggle with the cost of this.”

In response the school’s head teacher, Gill Austerfield, said that the idea had come from the pupils and insisted that the activity was “completely voluntary”. “Any fundraising events we do are always voluntary and the only comments I received before the holidays were positive ones,” she said.

“I completely understand that some parents can find things difficult and there’s a lot of pressure on them to pay for things. That’s why we sent out a letter to parents at Christmas asking them not to buy staff Christmas presents.

“It’s not a problem at all for any children that don’t bring the tube back. It makes no difference. We’ve never ever punished children who do not get involved and there’s never been any problem with children whether or not they contribute.”

Mrs Austerfield, who has been at the school for 13 years, said she was disappointed that the parents had not contacted her directly with their concerns.

She said: “My office door is always open for them to tell me what they think and they can contact me in a number of different ways.”

A message was later sent out to parents on Friday to clarify that the scheme was not compulsory, followed up by a letter sent out on Monday.

Other parents jumped to the school’s defence as pupils returned for the summer term this week.

Clare Oldham, who has a child aged five at the school, said: “At no time was this initiative communicated in any way that could have been perceived as mandatory. We are extremely happy with Asquith primary and all the staff that our child has contact with. I understand that family budgets are tight, but that should not mean that voluntary fundraising events should not take place every once in a while.”

Shona Bowes, who has had three children at the school, said: “Mrs Austerfield always makes time to listen to parents.

“The Smartie tube event held over the Easter holidays has been a fun event for my daughter who has loved doing jobs for family and friends to raise money towards playground equipment that will benefit all the children there. I feel this has been ruined by some people that clearly have no idea about Asquith Primary School or the team that run it. This is also not something that occurs every week as seems to have been insinuated.”

Julia Howard, who is an active member of the Parent School Association added that she believed that those who complained were in the minority.

“I would like to echo the school’s position that all contributions are voluntary, no child will miss out because of their parent’s financial position and every parent I spoke to today was in full support of the school and their policies.”

Tina Cook, parent of two children at the school said: “I thought this was a wonderful concept - we were not obliged to take part, you could give pence or pounds. It is for our children’s benefit. The school want to provide the very best for the children.”

Janet Powell said: “Never in the eight years that my children have attended, from nursery to year six have I ever felt obliged to make a donation to a charity event. Gill Austerfield has always had an open door approach to all parents old and new, and I find it really sad that parents have gone to a local newspaper instead of approaching the school for clarity.”

Sarah Siddle, parent of three Asquith pupils, added: “I think it is important that from a young age, we all try and take ownership with regards to charity fundraising - to give something back to the community and not just take.”

Natalie Thornhill: “My daughter has been at Asquith for three years. It is a wonderful school and its headteacher and staff continually go above and beyond their role to support children and parents.”