Back-to-school costs run to thousands, survey shows

Sending a family of children back to school can cost thousands, according to the Barnardos school costs survey released today.

Over 2,000 parents responded to the survey, which is now in its ninth year. It found the average cost for sending a senior-infants pupil to school was €345, a fourth-class pupil €380, and a first-year secondary student €735.

"We have three children in 'free' education. In total, back to school will cost us about €1,950," one parent wrote.

"This covers uniforms, books, shoes and bus (not any extra-curricular activities) … after mortgage and utilities, we have €200 a week to live on for the five of us."

School books were found to cost between €76 and €100 for primary school students, while in secondary school 30% of parents were paying over €300.

The report also noted the cost of books varied widely - in fourth class, some parents spent €85 while other schools required books totalling €140 for the same curriculum.

Some 68% of schools now offered parents a book rental scheme in primary school, but only 20% of secondary school parents had access to such a scheme.

Only 12% of primary schools used a generic, plain uniform, with another 12% opting to have no school uniform. The remaining 76% required a more expensive crested uniform.

At secondary level, an enormous 97% of schools required a specialised, school-specific uniform.

Voluntary contributions ranged from €50 - €150, with 65% of primary school parents and 76% at secondary asked to contribute. Parents were also asked to pay towards classroom costs such as photocopying and stationery - 82% at primary level and 65% at secondary.

Among the recommendations made by the report are:

• A review of uniform policy from a value-for-money perspective

• A five-year plan to provide free school books for all, and no new editions published in the next six years.

• Remove the 23% VAT applicable to e-textbooks.

• Eliminate voluntary contributions.

• Raise the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance rate, and make the allowance available to all family types receiving family income supplements.

"We are told we have a ‘free’ education system, but as our annual survey shows, this is far from the case," said Fergus Finlay, CEO of Barnardos.

"The cost of sending children back to school is crippling too many families, with the cost of uniform, school books, equipment, voluntary contributions and transport all adding up."

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