Schools ‘should have to pay more costs’

Schools need to cover more of the educational costs to help parents financially stretched to the limit, Barnardos has said.

The Barnardos School Costs Survey found that while the average cost of some school- related items fell, in other areas it increased.

The survey of 987 parents showed many are almost permanently “living on the edge”.

It confirmed many are struggling to cover their costs, due to reduced household income and reductions to the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance.

The basic costs included in the survey do not include additional items such as school bags, sports equipment or transport costs.

The survey, in its seventh year, also highlights the frustration many parents feel at schools who they believe are not allowing for the financial strain being felt in households around the country.

One parent said: “We cut back on food and let other bills go unpaid to ensure children have what they need for school. We’re living on the edge all the time. So much for free education.”

Giving the example of a six-year-old child going into senior infants, the survey said the cost of clothing and photocopying fell and the cost of footwear remained static. But the cost of schoolbooks and the voluntary contribution increased.

With the €50 cut in the back-to-school allowance, now at €150, it means a typical family has to find an additional €55 compared to last year (a total of €355).

Basic costs for a 10-year-old entering fourth class is down €80 (to €390), compared to last year, with the costs of a child entering first year in secondary school falling by an average €35 (to €700).

School uniforms, particularly those bearing a school crest, are one of the main drains on family finances.

Almost three quarters of those surveyed had their children in a primary school with a uniform with a school crest, and that figure climbed to 97% of parents with children in secondary schools. Some secondary school uniforms are cost more than €250.

The cost of school books is also hitting parents financially. The regular issue of new editions means books cannot be passed on to family members. The survey also revealed some schools have asked for a bigger voluntary contribution from parents, while some schools are even asking parents to pay out for iPads and ebooks as greater use of them is being made in class, despite a lack of a national policy.

Barnardos said more book rental schemes are needed and schools should only receive the school book grant if they are operating such a scheme.

It also recommends schools use the grant to build up a stockpile of books by selective purchasing over the next five years.

Although transport costs are not included in the survey, parents revealed costs are rising, and disproportionately affect children in rural areas.

The charity also advocates no further cuts to education spending and services while synchronising income thresholds so that all family types and those in receipt of the family income supplement are eligible for the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance.

Barnardos’s CEO Fergus Finlay said: “We need to create a fair and sustainable education system that means all children have access to the materials they need to get the best education they can.

“We must address the deficits in the system that are squeezing family budgets and ensure that all children have the opportunity to learn and grow in our schools.”


Bottom line

* €355: Average basic costs for six-year-old in senior infants — up €55;

* €390: Average cost for 10-year-old in fourth class — down €80;

* €770: Cost for 12-year-old going into 1st year — down €35;

* Back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance cut by a minimum of €50 across all three categories;

* 15% of parents with secondary school child pay €250 or more for uniform;

* Some schools are asking for a larger voluntary contribution.

Read more on the Barnardos School Cost survey here: Struggling to survive by Noel Baker and Niall Murray


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