school news December-Free School info

Thank you everyone for such as successful and fun Christmas Fair.  We have taken just over £950, which is slightly up on last year.  It was wonderful to see so many of you there – especially when the weather was so cold.  The café sold such delicious food and was beautifully presented.  The craft stalls  and pizza were all fantastically organized and the toy and bookstall looked rather like Hamleys!  The children were able to run lots of stalls this year.  Thank you for supporting them – and thank you to them for helping so generously.  The hamper was filled with goodies – and Hannah ensured that we had a marvelous raffle.  The children’s songs and puppet show were very uplifting – although I think I may need to consider a larger space for next year for those of you who were a bit squashed and hidden at the back. I wanted to say thank you to Heidi for organizing the Christmas Card Project.  22 children participated and £49 raised.  Next year we will start earlier to encourage more children to do it as it seems like a good way to fundraise.

There is a Christmas Postbox in the main hall.  Cards will be delivered to each class by Mark’s class daily.  Please ensure that names of children and their class are clearly written.

Dartington Hall has asked the people who work on the Estate to decorate one of their Christmas Trees outside the Main Hall.  The children have made reindeer bird feeders from fir cones and ash twigs with Martin.  Do go and have a look at them all!

We only have a week until we break up for Christmas but it is pretty packed full of events!

9th December – 7.30 – 8.45pm Winter Concert in St. Mary’s Church, Totnes.  Tickets in office.  All welcome.  Bring your friends!

10th December – 2pm. Early Years play.  All Early Years parents welcome to watch.

14th December – Christmas Party Day with a visit from Father Christmas.  (Please ensure your child has a named ‘you know what’ in the upstairs Quiet Room by 10th December at the latest.)  We will also be having our Christmas Lunch on this day.  The menu will be vegetarian sausages (there is a gluten and dairy free option if you need it – tell Shona), roast potatoes, parsnips and squash from the school garden, brussel sprouts, chestnut stuffing (gluten and dairy free) and gravy.  Shona is also making a Chocolate and Medlar (from the school orchard) tart.  Please order and pay via Shona or your class teacher by 10th December at the latest. The children in Main school are also making their own puddings in class and there will be some ‘seasonal extras’ (crackers for main school and ice cream for the Early Years) whether your child brings a packed lunch or books the Christmas lunch and these are provided from funds raised.  Shona is looking for helpers so please let Shona and your child’s teacher know if you are available.  Your help would be very much appreciated.

15th December – Last day of term – day ends at the usual time.

16th and 17th December – Decorating team to finish painting the toilets.

Spring term starts on 6th January.

The government has introduced a new single offer point for entry to Primary Schools which means that if your child’s date of birth is between 1/9/2006 and 31/8/2007 and you wish to apply for a place in a local authority run Primary School for next academic year the closing date is 15th January 2011.  The website is Further information is available from the school office or the Education Helpline 08451551019.

The Council of Management has been discussing the Free School option and here is an update from Inga ……

‘As Chair of Council, I have been looking into the option of Park School applying to become a free school under the new government scheme. To that end, I attended a conference in London back in October which provided some detail of how it would work – although it was apparent then that there are still a lot of unknowns. I then met with people at the South Devon Steiner School who are involved with their application, and they kindly spent quite a bit of time telling me about their experiences with the process. I also had a conversation with the New Schools Network which is responsible for helping people put together applications. Based on all this research, I would like to share my thoughts with parents.

It is not at all clear that pursuing a free school application would work for Park School. Firstly, we do not yet know the amount of money per child which the state will pay. Because we have small class sizes, and want to keep them small (no more than 20) and because we try to pay our teachers well (not as much as at a state school but more than at the Steiner School), it is not certain that the finances would work for us. This is clearly a major consideration and we are waiting for the government to announce this figure. For the Steiner School, with generally larger class sizes and lower salary costs per class, the financial situation is clearer.

Secondly, there would be a huge amount of work involved both in going through the application process and then in handling the enormous mountains of paperwork that would result from being part of the free school system. At Steiner, one parent took on the research and then the coordination of all the application papers and he told me that, over the last couple of years, this has taken up many, many hours of his time, and of those at the school who needed to help with filling out forms. For a school as small as ours, it would be an even greater burden on someone and on the staff.  We would have to factor into our financial planning another staff position to handle all the requirements associated with having to report to the government. The Early Years funding paperwork takes up huge amounts of Pauline's time, and it is much less than we would have to deal with if the whole school were part of the state system.

Thirdly, there is the very important point that there is no guarantee that a future government won't change the rules, as has happened with Early Years funding. We now lose money on every child (compared to our normal fee structure) who attends Early Years for just 15 hours per week, because the government's hourly rate doesn't cover our costs and because they no longer allow us to charge top-up fees. Having become part of the government funding system on a basis that seemed to make sense, we now find they have moved the goalposts and we are powerless to do anything about it. It is something we can absorb as it affects only the Early Years, but if it were the whole school, it would be a different matter. Likewise, it is quite possible that rules around testing, observing the national curriculum etc. could be changed when a new government takes over, and that would mean our basic human-scale values would have to be compromised, or we would have to opt out of the system.

As the Council's prime responsibility is to ensure the long-term viability of the school, Council members are very concerned about all these considerations and are taking a cautious approach. Of course, we all are very aware of the struggles many parents have with paying school fees and would love to find a way to help make the school more accessible to people on low incomes. I should point out though that even if we decided to go for it and found someone who could take the application process forward, it would be 2-3 years before we would have jumped through all the necessary hoops. So for parents who are struggling now, the free school route would not help their finances for the foreseeable future’.  Please contact Inga if you have any queries about the above.

Please ensure all bikes, scooters and personal belongings are taken home at the end of term.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with hope and laughter.

Best wishes,

Amanda Bellamy (Teacher in Charge)