Saturday 1 November 2014

More parents turn to State for help with school costs

Published 21/07/2014 | 02:30

Maeve Casey with Evan, Conor and James. Damien Eagers

PARENTS are spending up to €200 on school uniforms each year and still face huge bills for books, leading to a surge in families turning to the State for help with the costs.

The annual ritual of purchasing clothes and stationery for the new school year continues to be a huge financial burden for thousands of parents.

Costs can be even higher when after-school activities are included, and at second level the books alone can lead to a bill of €500.

More than 5,000 parents a week are now seeking State help with the costs of going back to school.

While there has been a surge in schoolbook rental schemes to help cut costs, critics have warned they remain patchy and often do not cover all books.

A new survey by online parenting forum Mummypages.ie found that 98pc of parents spend between €75 and €188 on schoolbooks and stationery each year.

More than half (52pc) spend an average of €196 on uniforms.

Expensive

And two-thirds of parents still buy their child's uniform through the school or a nominated specialist store – suggesting government efforts to get schools to move to cheaper generic chainstore items still aren't paying off for all.

Laura Haugh of Mummypages.ie, which has 450,000 users, said that almost two-thirds of the mothers she surveyed found back-to-school costs too expensive.

"Feedback from our mums is that the school management teams and the Government could do more by changing the school curriculum less frequently and by encouraging schools to adopt a plain uniform policy," she said.

Three-quarters of their mothers reported that their school had adopted a rental scheme to help cut the costs of textbooks.

Department of Education figures show that 88pc of primary and 68pc of secondary schools now operate book rental schemes, which will receive government subsidies of €15m over the next three years.

"However, with the curriculum changing so frequently it can only be adopted for a small number of books," said Ms Haugh.

Fianna Fail education spokeswoman Averil Power agreed that some schemes covered only certain classes or certain books.

"We still have a long way to go compared to the North where all book costs are covered by the State," she said.

New figures from the Department of Social Protection show that 127,478 families have already received back-to-school clothing and footwear allowances for 230,662 children and it is receiving 5,500 new applications each week.

This allowance is a means-tested payment of €100 per primary pupil and €200 per secondary student to assist with the burden of school costs.

The department has allocated €46.3m this year – which is down from €48m in 2013.

But the reason for the reduction is that third-level students no longer qualify for the payment, which from this year can only be made for children in primary or secondary school.

The National Parents' Council said it was too early to tell if initiatives to reduce costs were working, and they would seek more feedback on this in the autumn.

Back-to-school costs

* Uniforms (assuming two sets per child): €12–€300

* Shoes €7.99–€50

* Books: €40-€90 per child (Up to €500 in secondary).

* Voluntary contribution €0-€200 per child

* After-school activities: €100-€400 per child

* Stationery: €30

Uniforms

These vary enormously – for example, you can purchase a jumper, two polo-shirts and trousers or a skirt from Aldi for €6.50, with scuff-resistant shoes for €8.99.

And Tesco has a bundle of trousers or a skirt, a jumper and a polo-top for €6, with many other uniform items and shoes also available in-store.

Dunnes has trousers priced from €4.25 to €14, and skirts from €4 to €16, with jumpers from €7.50 to €12.

However, if you have to buy crested uniforms single jumpers can cost €50 each and skirts can cost €75.

Books

Again these prices vary enormously, both by class and by school, with most reporting costs of between €40 and €90 per child.

One secondary parent, however, reported paying more than €500 for books for a child entering fifth year.

Voluntary contributions

Range from zero in some schools, particularly rural ones, to from €90 to €180 per child in urban areas. Many schools have a maximum cost per family – the cost for one child might be €90 but the family contribution is capped at €150.

An ESRI study found that one in three parents in voluntary secondary schools was asked to pay €150 and one in five was asked to pay €200 or more.

Afterschool/ grinds

A mummypages.ie survey found that a third spent up to €100 per year on afterschool activities, and the remainder spent up to €400. A Bank of Ireland/Schooldays survey last week found that some parents of secondary pupils spend an average of €730 per student for grinds.

Little extras add up to a triple whammy of €600 bill for mum Maeve

MAEVE Casey faces back to school costs in triplicate – with three boys in Kilcloon National School, Co Kildare this year.

Connor is seven years old and starting second class infants; Evan is almost six and going into senior infants; while James, who's nearly five, is starting junior infants.

The Maynooth woman's costs will be more than €600 – before other items such as sport, drama, runners and schoolbags.

It comes after a stressful summer in which she suffered a stroke – from which she's now recovering – and was made redundant.

Maeve said that uniform costs will amount to around €30 per child as the school has a sensible uniform policy for young kids of a tracksuit rather than unnecessarily formal, expensive garments.

Runners typically come in around €40-€50 per boy, as "cheaper ones just fall apart" Maeve said.

There is a voluntary contribution of €90 per child capped at €150 per family.

Books will cost more than €100 per child. A book rental scheme will reduce that, but the boys are hard on them.

"They end up getting torn and scribbled on. The savings wouldn't be enough, as not every book is covered by the rental scheme," she said.

There's also an additional payment of €20-€25 per child to cover photocopying and other costs at school.

"I'm not complaining because I know everyone in the country is facing these costs, but I honestly don't see how people on the dole can meet them," she said.

She's setting up her own Little Lifesavers to teach first aid to parents and carers.

She reckons that working at your passion is the only way to have children and a career with different school pick-up times.

Irish Independent

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