In My Opinion: Cuts in education are biting hard as parents struggle to pay the bills
As an unemployed parent from Moate, Co Westmeath, and president of National Parents Council post-primary (NPCpp), how do I feel the cuts in education are affecting parents who like me are finding it hard to pay bills?
I have been unemployed since August 2009.
The last few years have been hard as we have one son who recently finished third year in NUI Galway. When he didn't get the points he wanted, he was offered his third choice. We got his scripts checked as a result of which he was upgraded and subsequently got his first choice, Arts in NUI Galway.
By then we had a contract signed in Waterford for 10 months, so we had to pay for two apartments (Galway and Waterford) for most of his first year. We paid a high price for a State Examinations Commission (SEC) mistake.
Last year, our younger son was in transition year and, thankfully, the school has been very good at picking activities that are close to home, so keeping costs down.
Unlike other schools we have a book rental scheme, and we pay €130 for the books, a locker and the journal.
Schools also ask parents for voluntary contributions. There can be a problem where principals or teachers call students from class to inform them that the voluntary contribution has not been paid.
The price of uniforms is upwards of €150.
School transport costs are a worry for many. Fully eligible students living three miles or more from school pay an annual charge of €300, up to a maximum of €650 for a family, which is due for payment in full by July, or else in two instalments, July and the start of December.
Could we not have the second instalment for transport fees in February?
Many parents feel under pressure to pay for grinds. One parent told me she had taken out a loan to get grinds for her daughter.
As well as questions about education, parents are worried about other costs such as rising rents, electricity and heating bills, and where the money for food will come from. The St Vincent de Paul and Barnardos have been a blessing for lots of families.
As president of NPCpp, I give a lot of my time trying to improve the education system with the support and help of the other directors, the management bodies and the unions.
Between September and the end of December, I will have been at 25 sessions of training in most counties around the country.
I also travel up and down the country for my work on Parents Associations of Community and Comprehensive Schools (PACCS) as well as NPCpp.
This mileage incurs cost like change of tyres three times last year and service charges.
The snow last winter meant I didn't get as much mileage out of my second set of tyres as usual.
Tommy Walshe is president of the National Parents Council post-primary (NPCpp)