What sort of a country are we living in when parents are being asked – and many feeling forced – to contribute to their child’s education and the running of their school?

I’m not talking about requests for money towards school outings or parties or special events. It’s donations for essentials such as books and pens – even toilet roll in some areas of the UK – that are now among the regular requests being made by schools as head teachers, faced with big gaps in their funding, seek ways to prop up budgets.

In fact, the charity Parentkind, formerly the Parent Teacher Association, carried out a survey of 1,500 parents with a child aged between 5 and 18 at school and found that 43 per cent have been asked to make a regular financial contribution to their child’s school, with 11 per cent of parents giving more than £30 a month. According to Parentkind, more than one in ten parents have been asked to supply essential items such as toilet roll and plasters.

It’s not the schools’ fault. They are being forced to scrabble for supplies by any means they can because of successive cuts and the dire state of school funding. The fact is that schools that have already made all of the obvious savings are turning to parents when there’s no more room for manoeuver.

Of course this is, in turn, adding to the ever-present financial pressures on parents, who also pay for other events in the school calendar that used to be free, such as concerts and sports days, simply because without their contribution, the school wouldn’t be able to cover the costs. Requests for money are always voluntary, but few parents want the guilt of being responsible for cancelling sports day.

Added to this is that none of the aforementioned contributions take into account the other school fundraising events such as cake sales, plant sales, discos and various raffles that take place regularly throughout the year, placing yet more financial strain on parents. And while some might sneer at parents who balk at giving money for yet another dress up day – after all, it’s only a quid or two – it’s unfair and offensive to just assume that all parents can easily afford to hand over even small sums of money on a very regular basis.

This paper ran a story last week on the crisis facing the schools sector locally, with the principal of St Fancheas in Enniskillen saying he believes the school is dealing with the most difficult financial challenges in more than 70 years. Using prize night as his opportunity to outline how desperate the situation is, Maurice Collins accused politicians in Northern Ireland of “letting children down”, particularly vulnerable children with special needs who are often the first to lose out when funding is cut.

Indeed, schools across Northern Ireland have been warning about the deteriorating situation due to budget cuts amounting to about 10 per cent in real terms over the last ten years.

As dozens caution that they will exceed their budget this year, the National Audit Office has painted a very bleak picture in its latest report, with the number of schools already in deficit reaching almost 400, up from 195 in 2012/2013. As Mr Collins pointed out, schools are at tipping point.

The fact that many can’t afford such a basic, essential item like toilet roll shows just how much pressure our schools are under and should send alarm bells ringing, not just to government, but to us all. If we want children and young people to excel in the future, if we want a prosperous economy, we have to invest in education. The responsibility shouldn’t fall on parents, who are already contributing through their taxes. It’s sad and frankly disgraceful that any government should think it’s acceptable for parents to financially support their child’s school in this way, so that the school can function properly. Voluntary or not, any sort of fees or financial contributions hit the poorest and most vulnerable in society hardest. Maybe we all need a reminder that education is not a privilege of the rich. It is a fundamental human right.