The prospect of further budget cuts in years to come has also strengthened the case for reform of how schools are financed and run, according to some campaigners.
Secondaries and primaries are increasingly resorting to organising fundraisers for basics such as paper, pencils and IT equipment, Holyrood’s education committee was told last week.
Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said: “We’re supposed to have a system of education that is free at the point of delivery – we don’t. We have individual parents who are having to find money to pay for materials or trips or whatever for the young people.”
This can deter some pupils from poorer backgrounds from following technical and practical subjects where they may have to pay for extra materials, she said.
“We’ve been tracking this for a number of years and parent groups are raising funds not for frills, not for ribbons or fancy things, but for fundamental resources,” Ms Prior said.
“Parent groups are funding things which would previously have been included in the school budget – that is across the board.”
Iain Ellis, chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said he knew of two schools in West Dunbartonshire where parent groups are paying for basics such as pens and pencils. He questioned the need for each council to have its own education department.
“When children are starting to share books one to three it doesn’t work,” he said. “Kids are going home with books taped together that kids from years gone by have scribbled wee notes on. There’s no money left.
“The last three years there have been cuts, but not a lot to education. The next three years there are going to be serious cuts to education because other departments have been cut to the bone.
“The only way to make serious savings in education is through staffing and school closures, neither of which are acceptable to parents.”
He suggested instead doing away with the system of all 32 authorities exercising control.
Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said reform of the sector was “long overdue”, citing a decline in Scotland’s international performance in reading, maths and science since 2000.
The Conservatives want Scotland to look at education in countries such as Canada, the US and Sweden, where boards of trustees or charter schools variously determine how individual organisations are run.
Ms Davidson said: “While Scottish administrations since devolution have held the power to chart a bold new course for our nation’s schools, they have ducked this challenge. In place of long-overdue reform, they have too often retreated into a ‘Scottish exceptionalism’ which closes its eyes to the transformational change that has swept through the delivery of education across much of the world.”
About one in seven Scots from more deprived areas go to university, according to a report by the Scottish Funding Council published last week.