CASH-strapped schools are being lured into a ‘corrupt’ system as they struggle to afford basics like pens and paper, it has been claimed.

The warning comes after one school wrote to parents asking for help to buy basics, such as paper and glue. 

Campaigners have criticised the rapidly rising number of academies in Oxfordshire, run by multi-academy trusts rather than the county council, and said many are being misled into converting under the illusion of improving finances.

READ AGAIN: More Oxfordshire schools ask parents for funding help

Academy advocates have opposed this, however, saying critics should lobby for government funding for schools rather than ‘aiming parents at the wrong target.’

Oxfordshire’s joint branch secretary of the National Education Union, Sarah Carter, said: “Oxfordshire seems to suffer from schools jumping [into the academy system] way before they have to, because they think it will save money and help their budgets.

“My school frequently ran out of board pens, writing materials, paper and exercise books. It decided it didn't have enough money and joined a multi-academy trust.

“Once you become an academy, the economies of scale and the money you think you’re going to save disappear.”

English teacher Ms Carter, who is on secondment from St Birinus School in Didcot, was speaking at a meeting at Oxford Town Hall on Tuesday called The Crisis in Education.

An audience member echoed her concerns, adding: "Primary schools are jumping before they need to leap and falling for the financial 'carrot' - it's a mirage."

In 2016 the Government said all schools must become academies, but conversion is now only forced when schools are rated 'inadequate’ by Ofsted.

All of the Oxfordshire's mainstream secondary schools are now academies except Carterton Community College and primaries are catching up – 138 are still run by the council, but 98 have converted, with more in the process of doing so.

Ms Carter said academies were becoming 'exam factories’ and trusts are constantly cost-cutting, dropping subjects and restructuring staff.

She added: "The object is to get more money by getting good results, because every child is worth money.

"It's time we tackle the corruption that lies at the core of the academisation programme - the privatisation of state education is not the reason I became a teacher."

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Peter Cann, a concerned Oxford grandparent who organised the meeting, added: “Oxford's schools are having to cut funding for basics such as books and materials.

“On top of this, privatisation in the form of academies is eating away at the state education sector.”

In a newsletter last week, New Hinksey CE Primary School in Oxford invited parents to donate glue sticks, tissues, photocopying paper and card for craft.

The council-run school started to collect donations last year after parents proactively asked how they could help.

Headteacher Charlotte Haynes said: “We feel strongly that parents should not have to financially support a maintained school, nor do we want to make parents feel uncomfortable by being asked for money, which is asked for in some schools.

“We regularly give ideas for items that any parent or grandparent that so wishes can pick up easily and drop off to school to keep our stocks replenished.”

She stressed that families are not ‘obliged’ to donate but that the community had been ‘amazingly supportive.’

However, Mrs Haynes said funding issues will not be solved by small requests for resources, adding: “The overall picture is not sustainable in the long or even medium term - schools are being asked to do more with less resources.

"All schools have spent the last few years trying to make savings and pare down without impacting the quality of learning for our precious young people, who are growing up in challenging times.”

One of Oxfordshire’s biggest multi-academy trusts is the River Learning Trust, which runs more than 20 academies including The Cherwell School in Oxford.

Its chief executive Paul James stressed that current pressures facing schools is ‘not one of our making’.

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Responding to Ms Carter's concerns, he said: “To say that the teachers who run those schools have taken decisions that are not guided by what is best for their pupils’ education is, quite frankly, wrong and insulting.

“Joining a multi-academy trust can bring financial benefits, but it will not solve all the problems caused by cuts in education funding.

“Turning parents against academies might be ideologically rewarding for those doing it, but it is aiming them at the wrong target if they want to change funding issues.”

New Marston Primary School joined the River Learning Trust in 2017 after it was rated ‘inadequate’, and headteacher Tracey Smith admits the school was in ‘huge financial deficit’.

She said: “We could not spend any money on staff training, resources or the building. By joining the trust we became solvent.

“The trust ensured we had adequate heating, we are getting new windows and have a new outdoor play area.”

The Ridgeway Education Trust, which runs St Birinus School and Didcot Girls’ School, wrote about the benefits of joining a MAT in its latest accounts.

The report, published last month, said: “Faced with ongoing education funding pressures, increasing costs and competition from new schools, the need to source shared services and drive economies of scale has been of great importance."

The Department for Education has said the new national funding formula will boost Oxfordshire schools by £10.5m.

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