High costs of back to school bill

Back to school season is underway and with it the attendant concerns associated with getting children equipped and kitted for the coming year.

Back to school season is underway and with it the attendant concerns associated with getting children equipped and kitted for the coming year.

From uniforms, books and voluntary contributions to lunches, the costs are very real, and even more pronounced at a time of great economic hardship.

The financial burden and stress of these costs was evident in the feedback provided by parents in the recent Barnardos School Costs Survey.

The survey revealed a palpable sense of anger directed towards Government and, at more local level, at Boards of Management and Parents Associations, that enough was not being done to defray some of these expenses.

The findings of the Barnados survey, which over 1,100 parents participated in, provides a stark picture of the costs attendant on sending children to school.

It found that, on average, parents are paying €350 for a child in senior infants, €400 for children in 4th class in primary school and €785 for children going into first year in secondary school.

Of these costs, school books and uniforms form the highest proportion, although voluntary contributions and school transport also weigh heavily on budgets.

Barnardos make the point that though these prices have stabilised somewhat since last year, this is tempered by the fact that many people’s incomes have reduced. For the less well off, there is also less support available due to cuts in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.

The CEO of Barnardos, Fergus Finlay emphasises that “It is a hugely stressful time for parents as many are forced into debt, forgo bills and take out loans in order to meet these costs. They are afraid their child’s education will suffer if they don’t have everything they need.”

The greatest burden of cost revolves around uniforms and books and the survey highlights huge differences in various schools, ranging from the cost of crested uniforms, to the old bugbear of new editions and different books every year.

Barnardos suggest some practical steps which they estimate would lead to significant savings, including school book rental schemes and reducing the uniform requirements.

A proactive common sense approach from the Department of Education downwards is needed to ensure that access to education is not in any way prohibited by costs.

The focus should always be on providing the best education possible, rather than the cut of a uniform or otherwise.