Tough choices ahead as back-to-school bill rises

Andrea Dunne from Wicklow:'There was no summer holiday for us this year — the cost of our summer holiday last year was the cost of getting the children back to school this year so we just had to scrap that. We have had no days out. We just plod along.'

Parents will have to pay more this year to send their children to school, according to Barnardos’ 10th anniversary survey of school costs.

The average cost for a senior infant pupil has increased from €345 to €365 over the last two years while it has increased from €380 to €390 for a fourth class pupil in primary school.

At second level, the cost for a first-year student has jumped, over two years, from €735 to €785.

Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay said parents were having to make really difficult choices to fund their children’s education.

“There will be houses where there will be no electricity bill paid this month because parents have to make that investment in their children’s future,” says Mr Finlay.

“There are families who will go into debt and families who cannot afford to bring their children on holidays.”

Andrea Dunne from Ashford, Co Wicklow, has three girls aged 7, 12, and 15, and the cost of sending them back to school in a few week’s time is €2,500.

The youngest moves into second class; the middle girl will start the first year of secondary school, and the oldest will go into fourth year.

The girl starting secondary school needs an iPad and that alone costs €500.

“There was no summer holiday for us this year — the cost of our summer holiday last year was the cost of getting the children back to school this year so we just had to scrap that,” says Ms Dunne.

“We have had no days out. We just plod along. Any savings we had are gone.”

Ms Dunne says she intends to cut back on food shopping over the next few weeks to deal with the cost.

The girls had wanted to go to Tayto Park in Meath but the cost of the day trip there was the price of two pairs of shoes for the older girls so that adventure was out of the question.

Ms Dunne and her husband are not entitled to back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance because they were €50 over the threshold.

She works during term time, while her husband is currently in full-time education.

“I was approached by Barnardos because they could not believe my children’s education costs,” says Ms Dunne. “They said I was the perfect candidate to get the word out there, that going back to school was expensive.”

Mr Finlay says the school costs survey by the charity was based on input from 1,400 parents, and said it is clear the issue is causing massive stress.

“It is time we said enough is enough,” he says. “It is very clear our education system is under-funded and under-resourced and there is an unfair expectation that parents will plug the gaps.”

Mr Finlay said €103.2m would ensure a child’s constitutional right to education was genuinely free.

In the context of an €8bn budget, he said, the investment needed is very little and, with a general election coming up, Mr Finlay hopes the Government sees that it would be well worth it.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul says its members were receiving a high volume of calls from parents seeking help on school costs.

“Most people on low incomes struggle on a week-to-week basis and find it difficult to deal with these one off costs,”. says SvP “They come to us to get them over a financial hump and this time of year has always been a particularly busy time.”


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