My niece Rachel is a primary-school teacher in America, where it's said that teachers spend an average $40 a month from their own pocket to buy classroom essentials. I can well believe it, and I would guess the same sort of thing is true in the UK too. But US teachers have a way of spreading the burden, thanks to an interesting website called www.DonorsChoose.org.
Rachel was very keen for her class to have a $350 piece of basic equipment – namely a rug (though it's a bit more high-tech than that) for the young kids to sit on. So she got the sign-off from her boss and posted her project on the site, where people can make donations towards it. Now she's only $50 short. I guess that many of the donors are friends and relations like me, but then again, the site has a large readership of people willing to make donations to good educational causes, so many of the donors could be completely unknown to her.
Of course, donation websites exist in many forms. The reason I wanted to mention this is because I think it could be important in the context of the UK government's ambition to clear the way for Free Schools on the Swedish model. These are schools that might be founded by parents and teachers who are fed up with the existing state system, or by voluntary and charitable bodies, by universities, or even by private companies. The state will still pay for the children's education, but such bodies will probably have to be – and will want to be – much more dependent than existing state schools on local community support and nationwide philanthropy. It struck me as the sort of mechanism that Free School founders should employ, and the government should support.
And if you like, you can support Rachel and her class here.