A school has taken to the internet to appeal for essential equipment it cannot afford to buy.
As with so many of the county’s cash-strapped schools, leaders at Warnham Primary have been finding it more and more difficult to pay for basic items such as pencils, glue sticks and toilet roll.
But, thanks to the efforts of the PTFA (Parents, Teachers and Friends Association) and in particular mum-of-two Natalie Collingwood, a rather creative stop-gap has been found.
Natalie, who is co-founder and director of marketing consultancy and web design company Business Espresso, has created a website which lists and pictures exactly what the school needs to buy, in what quantity and at what cost.
It even sorts the items by class, enabling parents and friends to pay for something that will specifically benefit their children.
Called the Warnham School Wishlist – www.warnhamschoolwishlist.co.uk – the site went live last week and hundreds of pounds worth of goods have already been ordered.
Natalie, who is mum to eight-year-old Evie and five-year-old Tom, said: “From the beginning, this has always been about making it as easy as possible for people to donate.
“Our hope is that the Warnham School Wishlist strikes a chord with not only local businesses and village residents but also people who attended the school in the past or have sent their children there.”
While pleased with the early response to the website, Natalie was under no illusions that more needed to be done. She said: “It’s brilliant that this gives parents a little bit of control but it’s not the solution.”
Describing the funding situation as “dire”, Natalie said: “The fact they had run out of glue sticks, it is ridiculous. And there were no tissues.
“Another thing is I don’t think schools feel necessarily comfortable telling parents that these are the things that they can’t afford to buy. But it’s important parents know it’s that bad.”
She added: “What I want to do is include the village community because I felt in Warnham that, if you don’t have children you are quite dislocated from the school.
“There doesn’t seem to be that many people involved and I’m really convinced it’s the heart of the village. And I’m really hoping there will be some residents who can easily get onto this website and donate, even if they don’t necessarily have children here.
“If we start getting donations from the Warnham community, that to me is amazing.
“They need to know they’ve got this beautiful village school on their doorstep and they can’t afford to buy these small things.”
West Sussex has long been one of the lowest funded authorities in the country.
While the government’s new National Funding Formula has been hailed as a step in the right direction and should bring £28m to the county’s schools by 2020, it does not take into account increases in costs such as wages, pensions and national insurance contributions.
West Sussex will remain one of the lowest funded authorities in the country once it is introduced.
The county’s schools will continue to receive tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands and even millions of pounds less than those is higher-funded areas.
When asked what she would say to Damian Hinds, the new secretary of state for education, Natalie’s answer was simple.
She said: “From the West Sussex side of things it would be just to give us a fair chance.
“Also to get on the ground and actually talk to these schools and realise quite how difficult times are.
“Talk to these primary schools and ask them on a day-to-day basis how are they managing, how are they coping?”
Shirley Kirby, Warnham’s new headteacher, said she was delighted with the online wishlist, as well as the response from parents and well-wishers.
When asked about Natalie’s efforts, she said: “I didn’t know she was going to do it. It’s amazing! She’s so creative and skillful to be able to come up with that idea.”
She added: “I am overwhelmed by the kindness, generosity and support of the parents/carers at Warnham CE Primary.
“The PTFA work tirelessly to raise funds for the school and the local families support their efforts with enormous enthusiasm.
“As with many underfunded schools in West Sussex, our PTFA funds are now required for essentials such as reading books, exercise books and pencils rather than the ‘added extras’ in previous years.
“I feel proud and incredibly humbled by the caring community spirit of our school.”
Looking at the effect the low level of funding would have on her school, Mrs Kirby said: “Basically, it’s over the next few years the funding’s going to hit us more and more.
“We’re finding it a real challenge to get enough money together for basic things like pencils and glue sticks and that sort of thing.
“We’re desperately trying to keep the education standard high and the provision that we’re able to give, but without resources that’s really quite tricky for us.
“It might be that we’re struggling with, for example, maths resources. We needed some Numicon to help the children with their maths. And that’s gone on to the wishlist.
“Also reading books, we’re really struggling to get enough money for reading books.
“In guided reading, we’d like to have every single child in the class have the same reading book for us to teach them but we haven’t got enough money at the moment to do that, so we’re having to go to our PTFA to help us support that.”
One of the toughest choices being made by headteachers across the county as they try to balance their budgets involves cutting staff, or not replacing those who leave.
At Warnham, Mrs Kirby said that was “definitely something we’re thinking about.”
She added: “We’re looking at our next budget and we’re concerned, not just for next year, for the next two or three years. We’re really quite worried about that.”
MPs, including Horsham’s Jeremy Quin, said they planned to meet with Damian Hinds to discuss concerns about school funding and the National Funding Formula.
The concerns included rising costs faced by schools, the impact of the formula on small rural schools, delays in the implementation of the formula at some schools, and the omission of high needs funding from the formula.
Mrs Kirby had her own message for Mr Hinds.
She said: “My message to him would be that never would I expect any money to be taken away from other schools. I think it’s right that other schools in London etc are getting the funding that they’re getting.
“It’s just why are our children in West Sussex worth less than children in another county? I feel our children are worth just as much as any other child.”