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School costs do not add up for parents

By Ann Marie Foley - 01 August, 2019

“Developing a free education system will not happen overnight but the government must take the first step in creating a more equitable system,” said Suzanne Connolly, CEO, Barnardos.

At least half of parents borrow money, cut back on household expenses or do not pay due bills in order to pay for their children’s back-to-school expenses.

This is according to the annual Barnardos School Costs Survey of 1400 parents, which found that 42 per cent of primary and 48 per cent of secondary school parents cut back or do not pay bills so they can afford back-to-school costs such as books and school uniforms. A further 8 per cent of primary and 14 per cent of secondary school parents are forced to borrow money to cover school costs.

“Summer time should be a time spent on the children but instead it is spent worrying about having enough for September … the cost of education leaves us with nothing left, and struggling,” commented one primary school parent in the Barnardos School Costs Survey 2019.

The survey found that parents continue to pay dearly when getting their children ready to return to school each September. The 2019 figures show that the average cost of the basics needed for a senior infants pupil is €340; for a fourth class pupil it is €380; and for a first year pupil it is €735. This is similar to 2018, when costs were €360, €380 and €745 respectively.

“Every year for more than a decade parents have been telling Barnardos – through our School Costs Survey – that their children’s back-to-school costs place a significant financial burden upon them,” said Suzanne Connolly, CEO, Barnardos.

“Once more it is clear from our survey that parents are stressed out, overburdened and fed up of subsidising our so-called ‘free education’ system. The substantial financial cost of sending a child to school means access to education is not free and anything but equal.”

On books parents spent €75 for a senior infants pupil, €90 for a fourth class pupil, and €215 for a first year pupil. Some 74 per cent of pupils in primary school have access to a school book rental scheme and parents paid €55 for this. Only 44 per cent of secondary school pupils have a book rental scheme available in their school and parents paid €100 where book rental was available.

An analysis of trend data from Barnardos annual school costs survey since 2012 indicates that access to book rental schemes for primary school has grown (from 50 per cent in 2012 to 74 per cent in 2019), but has remained almost the same in secondary schools (from 40 per cent in 2012 to 44 per cent in 2019).

Barnardos has called on the government to take the first step in providing free education by introducing free school books, which would cost just 0.2 per cent of the overall education budget, for all primary school children in Budget 2020.

“Developing a free education system will not happen overnight but the government must take the first step in creating a more equitable system,” said Suzanne Connolly.

Stationery was included in the survey for the first time in 2019 and varies from €20 for a senior infants pupil to €30 for a fourth class pupil and €60 for a first year.

One parent told CatholicIreland.net that the new Junior Cycle, with ongoing assessment, is adding unexpected stationery costs. For example, instead of the usual copybooks, hardback exercise books are required; project folders cost from €4 to €6 each and when this is multiplied by 8 subjects, it adds up.

Despite a 5 per cent increase in capitation fees by the government, education is still underfunded, so parents have to meet the shortfall through so-called “voluntary contributions”, which range from €60  to €115 per pupil. This year 67 per cent of primary school parents have been asked for a voluntary contribution (the same as last year) and 69 per cent of secondary school parents have been asked to pay a contribution (down 2 per cent on last year). Barnardos recommended an increase in capitation fees by 10 per cent.

“The government must provide adequate capitation fees to schools so that they no longer have to rely on additional contributions from parents who are already put to the pin of their collar,” stated Barnardos.

Paying for expensive crested or branded uniforms rather than generic ones continues to be an issue in spite of guidelines. Barnardos recommended that schools’ Boards of Management adhere to the Department of Education circular regarding school uniform policy to take measures to reduce the costs on parents. It also called on the government to restore the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance to the 2010 level by increasing the primary and secondary school rates by €25 per child in Budget 2020, to €175 and €300 respectively.

The survey includes the cost of clothing, footwear, school books, stationery, classroom resources and voluntary contributions. It does not include transport.

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