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Free education...think again!

PUBLISHED: 08:11 25 September 2009 | UPDATED: 14:11 06 July 2010

LIKE the NHS, the foundation of our education system is that it's free.

Each child entitled to free education and equal opportunities.

In our dreams.

LIKE the NHS, the foundation of our education system is that it's free.

Each child entitled to free education and equal opportunities.

In our dreams. We all have enough anecdotes about inequality and unfairness of the system to fill the town library, the Britten Centre and most of London Road North.

Free? Well, Ed Balls hasn't sent out bills for teaching. Yet!

But from primary schools to sixth forms, charging for what used to be free is creeping in by the back door.

If you're a parent, your kitchen table is probably scattered with demands for cash.

Not from utility companies for life's essentials but demands from school.

Letters asking for money for school lockers, charges for after school and lunchtime clubs, payments for transport to swimming classes, “voluntary” contributions for school trips, “donations” towards visiting educational entertainers, musicians and drama groups invited into the school, costumes for this, contributions for that.

Parents shell out for expensive uniforms and equipment to meet school requirements then home come the demands all year round.

Just last week, my younger son arrived home from his primary school with a letter with a “voluntary payment” envelope for a £4 contribution towards the cost of a percussionist's visit, a list of clubs asking for weekly payments and news of a two-night residential trip next spring.

In the seven years since my older son started school, requests for cash have grown.

They put extra pressure on parents already struggling to make ends meet. Families with multiple children panic every time they pull a letter from the book bag.

As one parent said at the school gate the other day: “It's as if the teachers have no idea what is happening in the outside world. We're struggling financially having to make cuts. Parents are being made redundant. These demands are too much.”

Others blame the Government for forcing schools to turn to parents for help. Only this week Ed Balls said he could cut schools budget by £2m.

A letter to The Journal from single mother on “a very low budget due to disability” was written from the heart and will strike a chord with many parents desperate for their children not to miss out but financially stretched.

She is “completely fed up with the money schools have to beg off the parents” because the Government doesn't give adequate school funding.

“Not only have they scrapped help towards school uniform … the school is constantly sending home letters for money.”

After spending £85 on school uniform, without trousers, shoes and stationery, within the first two weeks back at school she had been asked for a voluntary payment for her child's design and technology lessons.

She chose not to pay but her child came home upset.

“If you don't pay it then they don't get to bring their work home and it will then cost £12 per item. I have now received a letter asking for another £5 for lockers and also to pay £1 a year for this.”

Parents are threatened with fines and even imprisonment if they don't send their children to school, she said.

“I would think there are a lot of parents out there that feel the same as me and cannot afford the constant pressure of money being needed by the school from us.”

No child wants to be different; no parent wants a child to miss out. But schools need to think of the impact each demand has on every family.

QD is opening a second store in Lowestoft bringing life to the old Woolworths.

QD is great - and it's a relief to see an eyesore empty shop trading again - but does Lowestoft really need another prime site discount store?

The shop does what it does brilliantly but does Lowestoft want to become QDville?

A town centre heaving with discount stores says one thing about its community? That it's depressed and struggling.

A thriving QD obviously beats a vacant shop front - and 20 people will get jobs - but save us from turning into one big 50p alley and going down the Great Yarmouth route.

Image is everything and cheap isn't an image Lowestoft wants or needs. Cheap will never revive interest in the town.

Great Yarmouth is bursting with 99p and £1 stores. We want and deserve better.

But all the time the quality high street stores our town centre yearns for set up on dismal retail parks.

I dread to think of what would have become of Chadds had Palmers not stepped in.

The shoppers of Lowestoft deserve to be told what is being done to attract quality retailers into their town - before they all desert their town for good.

STRICTLY Gone Boring.

Ten minutes into the new series and I was reading the newspaper. Tired, jaded, geriatric - sorry Brucie but doddery you are - and far too long. The first two episodes dragged on and on.

And poor Alesha Dixon - beautiful, fresh-faced and sweet natured she might be but bright and articulate she isn't.

The latest ruse to explain her presence is that she's the “voice of the viewer.” The viewer has a voice, the vote. We want wit, critique, expertise and entertainment on our screens not mundane platitudes.

Why is the vocabulary to any presenter/entertainer/celebrity under 30 limited to “brilliant?” And she's being paid £100,000 for it.

Her flatness and ineptitude only served to send her male colleagues spinning over-the-top pushing Bruno into such exaggerated panto it became absurd.

The show in its present format needs to follow Brucie - straight to the nearest retirement home.

THE words I used to dread most in my past life as a playgroup mum - “We're going to a petting barn.”

Tiny hands and smelly farm animals don't mix.

Mothers spent a sleepless night fearing disease or death from stampeding billy goats.

We'd spend the day coaxing our terrified toddlers to pat mangy looking goats and sheep because that's the done thing at petting farms.

We endured screams, objections and tantrums to get them to touch then wrestle to keep our toddlers' fingers out of their mouths until we had reached the usually impossible-to-use outdoor hand washing equipment.

The e-coli outbreak has been horrific for the poor children and parents affected, but so many parents will be delighted by experts' advice to keep under fives away from petting barns.

HRT saves lives.

It makes women juddering on the brink of breakdown, losing a grip on their lives overtaken by a hormonal maelstrom feel like themselves again.

It helps keep families together and marriages survive.

Nothing in life comes without risk and study after study warns there might be health risks, however low, with HRT.

This week it linked it with lung cancer. Risks lurk in crossing the road, hair dye and staple guns but no one makes a fuss about them.

For many women HRT is the only way to feel better and regain their confidence.

Give women a break. HRT is a lifesaver not a killer.

YOU couldn't make it up.

Ronnie Biggs, supposedly about to draw his last breath, released from prison to die in hospital a free man with his family.

Within weeks the hard man is a granddad racer photographed haring about on an invalid scooter.,

Again he was sticking up the Vs yet again to the justice system and everyone he continues to hoodwink.

Catch me if you can Mr Straw. A good life on the run, free NHS treatment with a spell in prison and now laughing all the way through his free old age with not one hint of remorse or regret for his crime.

BEING drunk in public no longer carries shame.

Staggering, falling over paralytic and losing faculties is one big laugh. Now it doesn't even carry the threat of prosecution.

Convictions and cautions for drunkenness have slumped by more than three-quarters in the last 30 years.

A friend was telling me about the behaviour of guests at a wedding reception. When she arrived many were half cut, falling around and behaving disgracefully, all in front of their children.

Their children were terrified. Witnessing their parents so out of control, they felt vulnerable.

If parents render themselves incapable of even standing up because of booze they're guilty of neglect. Worse still, their children will remember the spectacle for life.

Cricketer Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff, a father of three, now admits his regret at drinking.

“You want your children to be proud of you … I don't want their father's poor behaviour to affect how they're perceived.”

A pity every parent doesn't feel the same.

CELLULITE sticks.

Women can exercise, slap their thighs with wet towels, rub in all manner of unguents and sip nothing but beetroot juice but cellulite still sticks.

A pair of leggings designed to melt away their cellulite by special crystals that heat up the skin with a “wonder yarn” embedded in the crystals has gone on sale in John Lewis for £15.

I'd like to think women have more sense - but we haven't.

As sassy as we pretend to be we live in cloud cuckoo land when it comes to cosmetic claims that this one just might make that difference.

LIBERAL Democrat leader Nick Clegg's wife Miriam is a voluptuous woman with curves in the right places.

So what made choose what looked like Cyril Smith's old trousers for a photocall stroll down Bournemouth prom?

Trousers with braces never flatter the female form.

Where does a woman with a bigger than 30A bust put the braces? The outside and inside both look ridiculous.

If the Bilbo Baggins look is in, she nailed it.

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