Parents at Prince Henry’s School in Otley say they are being ‘emotionally blackmailed’ into providing iPads for their children. This question has been bubbling away since the last weeks of 2013, with parents becoming increasingly outraged at the way the school has handled this entire issue.

Carl Morris, Labour Candidate for Otley and Yeadon
Carl Morris, Labour Candidate for Otley and Yeadon

The school has asked all parents to agree to a scheme whereby pupils in years 7, 8 and 9 will be equipped with iPad2s. There will be a £360 ‘donation’ towards the cost of this – to be paid over three years. After three years parents will then be required to sign-up to a new scheme for an entirely new iPad. Parents are effectively being asked to contribute £10 a month for the whole length of their child’s secondary school education.

Parents have many objections to the scheme, ranging from the educational merit of an iPad for every child, to the technological specifications of the iPad itself, through to concerns about the school charging for education in the first place.

Yet the central concern is around the implementation of the scheme. Prince Henry’s have only give parents the choice of opting in or out of the scheme – but parents have been warned that if they opt out now then they won’t be able to purchase an iPad at a later date (and, according to a letter from the school, their child “will miss out”).

Many parents have felt in a position whereby they fundamentally object to the scheme but don’t want their child to be left out if the scheme does go ahead. Parents have also strongly objected because the school refused to hold a public meeting where parents could express their views in an open forum to other parents.

The school had hoped to move forward with the scheme before Christmas. But the opposition of parents’ groups meant that the final decision had to be postponed until January.

As long ago as early December, Otley Town Council’s community development committee asked the school to reconsider the scheme.
Carl Morris, an Otley Town Councillor and Labour’s candidate in Otley and Yeadon, voiced their fears then:

“We felt strongly that the scheme will introduce a two-tier system, whereby some children will be excluded because of their financial situation at home.
“We are calling on the school to withdraw it and consider whether it could be introduced on a universal, free of charge basis.”

Yesterday [Monday 13 Jan] a packed meeting, organised by Carl Morris and parent groups, showed how high feelings are still running on this issue.

The range of arguments raised there reflects the problems the scheme has thrown up [see Facebook page and Twitter hashtag #PHGSiPad ]
– The managerial costs of the scheme and the high cost of the iPads themselves.
– Fears that children who have opted out will be stigmatised
– Lack of clear understanding of the benefits of iPad use in the classroom
– Problems of updating the technology

But the central concern of parents throughout has been the school’s inadequate consultation on what will be a potentially very divisive move.

The meeting last evening compiled a list of questions which Carl Morris is taking to the headteacher tomorrow. 14 parents have also agreed to form a delegation to ask for a meeting with the Governors to discuss their concerns in more detail.

Following the public meeting yesterday, Carl Morris commented:

“Tomorrow I will be urging Ms Sheriff to find a way to address these worries before proceeding any further – the iPad scheme is highly controversial and it will be a total disaster if it gets rammed through against the wishes of parents. I’m hopeful that this meeting will go well, because it is vital now that we start looking toward the future. Prince Henry’s is an excellent school, with fantastic teachers, but the fundamental relationship of trust between the school, parents, governors and the community has been broken. We’re going to have to work together with good faith and honest dialogue if we’re going to rebuild that trust. It would be a significant step in the right direction if the school listens to parents and completely rethinks the way they have approached this iPad scheme.”

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