Anger over school fundraiser as parents say it punishes poorer kids
Principal forced to shelve plans after families threaten to keep their children at home
Angry parents have hit out at a controversial school fundraising drive they said discriminated against poorer children.
Pupils at Ballykeel Primary near Ballymena were sent home with a letter setting out three levels of financial targets to aspire to as part of a challenge to raise money for the school's maths department.
Children were offered various incentives to do their best, with those collecting £10 entitled to a no-uniform day, and those raising £25 getting an ice cream on top of the first reward.
Youngsters who managed to come up with £50 for the campaign would get out of having to wear their uniform for a day and would be given a calculator as well as an ice cream.
But the note angered some parents who said they would refuse to send their children to class so they were not left "feeling like humiliated paupers".
Headteacher Sandra Sheeran said the incentives created "great enthusiasm among the pupils", but after being contacted by parents and this newspaper last night, she backed down and promised a treat for every child at the school.
She also indicated that the primary would limit such incentives in the future.
The fundraising campaign, which was due to be launched today, was designed to help buy "badly needed and long overdue" resources for the mathematics department.
However, after being notified of the plan to raise money, a number of parents contacted the Belfast Telegraph to express their unease with the campaign, many saying they did not want their children to be left wanting or feeling humiliated.
A furious 36-year-old mother-of-four told this newspaper: "I am a single mother, and the thought of constantly having to raise money is too hard for me on my own with three of my kids at that school.
"To think my kids will be sat there empty-handed while the rest of the class is given an ice cream makes me feel awful to the point that I feel like keeping them at home, like some other parents are saying they will."
Headteacher Mrs Sheeran said the teaching staff had no other option but to encourage pupils and parents to donate to the school because it, like many primaries across Northern Ireland, was dealing with budget cuts.
"Ballykeel Primary has a long history of successfully raising money for charity and for its own fundraising enterprises," she added.
"The vast majority of parents are fully supportive of the school and have been very generous and considerate over the years.
"Since 2011, the school has raised an amazing £33,500 for various charities - all specifically chosen because they have supported individual pupils and families directly connected to Ballykeel Primary.
"Many schools have to resort to raising funds in this way, as a result of well-publicised government budget cuts. Some of our fundraising does include the use of incentives."
Mrs Sheeran confirmed the school had received a letter of complaint from a parent about the unfairness of using incentives to raise money
The headteacher said "a long and thoughtful discussion" had taken place on the issue, with the eventual decision that all children should receive a treat.
"We were in agreement that we ought to rethink and limit our use of incentives in the future and that a letter should be sent to parents thanking them for their support and outlining what was discussed at the staff meeting," she explained.