Parents struggle to fund ‘free’ education

Cash-strapped parents facing onerous back-to-school costs could be pushed into the arms of moneylenders, the St Vincent De Paul has warned.

The annual Barnardos Schools Costs survey has again highlighted the considerable cost of sending children to school, with €735 the typical cost for a first-year pupil in secondary school.

While the survey suggested a fall in the overall costs associated with children starting a new school year, Barnardos said not enough was being done to ensure schools did all they could to lessen the financial burden on parents.

Barnardos CEO Fergus Finlay said Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan should consider exerting greater pressure on schools. “Being nice to the school system does not work,” he said. “They just need to be told parents need a choice.”

Mr Finlay said many schools were seeking a voluntary contribution — which in some cases increased over the past year — from parents because of general under-resourcing of the education system, something that could be addressed in the next budget.

He said other measures, such as removing Vat from tablets designated for educational use, would also help and showed the need for “political will” to ease the pressure on parents.

However, the St Vincent De Paul said the back-to-school period was a stressful time which can lead to parents utilising the services of moneylenders, costing them more in the longer term.

Brendan Hennessy of the SVP Social Justice and Policy team said: “Where significant costs arise, and people do not have the opportunity to pay off in installments, that is when people on low incomes get caught.”

He said payment of the voluntary contribution, in particular, meant this time of the year can be “a huge struggle” for parents who must find the money to pay for school books and uniforms and are up against a deadline of the start of the school term.

Mr Finlay said the voluntary contribution, much like registration fees, was not in fact voluntary and that proposals to cut the costs of going to school should be prioritised. Issues include the cost of school books, the possibility of bulk-buying by schools, better-stocked libraries, and uniforms.

All schools were required by the Department of Education this year to have surveyed parents about their preferences in relation to uniform policies.


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