Thursday 20 June 2019

The biggest education bills parents can expect to face - and ways to reduce those costs

The cost of education is rising
The cost of education is rising
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

Back-to-school costs don’t stop the minute children walk through the school gates this week — as the school year rolls on bills can run into the thousands. Here are some of the biggest bills parents can expect to face — as well as ways to keep those costs in check.

Activities

The bill for after-school activities could run into the thousands over the school year — particularly if you have more than one child. Although such activities are a discretionary cost, most parents end up paying for them.

Fees for after-school activities — which could run to several hundred euro for the first school term alone — typically start to kick in only a week or two after the schools reopen.

Choose your after-school activities carefully, therefore and, where possible, avoid signing your children up to the more expensive ones.

Swimming lessons are considered a must by many parents and you can expect to pay about €10 a pop for a half-hour group swimming lesson for your child — though rates vary, depending on the pool. Should your child need one-to-one swimming lessons, you’ll easily pay between €25 and €35 for a half-hour lesson. Swimming lessons for one child could therefore add up to between €300 and €400 (or more) over the school year.

Gymnastics and dancing lessons are popular after-school activities. You could pay €150 for a 15-week term of gymnastics classes and about €100 for a 10-week ballet term — which would add up to €300 or more over the school year, depending on the number of terms. Furthermore, the bills for such activities don’t always stop at the classes. Should your child move to competition level, the bill for taking part in the competition could run to more than €1,000. The bill for a costume for a modern or Irish dancing competition, for example, could come to €500 or more — and should you and your child need to travel for the competition, travel costs could easily run into the hundreds.

Music lessons can also be expensive. You could pay €25 for a half-hour violin or piano lesson for one child — so such lessons could cost several hundred euro over the school year. The cost of a musical instrument could run into the hundreds — and in some cases, thousands.

As horse-riding lessons could cost more than €1,000 for one child over the school year, this too is a pricey activity. Some horse-riding schools charge €35 for a one-hour child’s lesson — though some schools offer 10-week terms for about €250.

The are ways, however, to cut the cost of after-school activities. Unless you or your child has a particularly competitive streak, avoid getting sucked into competitions too early — as they will usually be expensive.

“Try to limit your child’s paid activities to just one or two and encourage them to get involved with the school or local sports teams as these usually attract a minimal — or no additional — cost,” said Laura Erskine, head of community for mummypages.ie.

An annual subscription to your local GAA club for example is often less than €100 per child — and for very young members, it could be as little as €50. Other cost-effective organisations include the Scouts and the youth organisation, Foroige.

Should your child wish to learn music, check if there are any Music Generation programmes running in your area.

Under these programmes, children can get subsidised music lessons (usually group lessons) — which makes the cost of such tuition much cheaper. You may also be able to rent musical equipment from Music Generation, rather than having to buy it. Fees for lessons may be waived if a child cannot afford tuition.

Exams

Exam years can be expensive for parents, particularly if a child needs grinds. You could pay almost €2,000, or more, for one-to-one private grinds over the school year. “Private grinds for Junior and Leaving Cert exam students can cost anything between €25 and €50 an hour,” said Annemarie Wade, director of schooldays.ie 

“The variation in cost often depends on whether you are availing of the services of a college student or a qualified teacher. Grinds are also generally more expensive in Dublin than elsewhere.” It may work  out cheaper to send your child to a grind school. For example, the Institute of Education in Dublin charges €875 for weekly Junior cert grinds in one subject over the school year, or €1,020 for Leaving cert grinds — as long as you pay upfront. (Early booking discounts are available if you book by September 1.)

“Class sizes in grind schools can be from 10 to 25 students,” said Wade. “If you are looking for more private tuition but are trying to save on the costs, see if a friend of your teen is also interested in grinds — as the teacher will often give a reduced hour rate for two or three students.”

Examination fees must also be paid — in 2018, these came to €109 for the Junior cert, and €116 for the Leaving cert. “Parents of Leaving Cert students will have to pay out any costs related to applying for third-level places,” said Wade.

 “For example, the normal Central Applications Office (CAO) application fee in 2018 was €45 —but there was a discounted fee of €30 for early applicants.”

School tour

Parents of transition-year students could face a bill of €1,000 or more for the school tour. “Generally speaking, transition-year trips continue to be the more expensive school tours as these groups can often go abroad without impacting the school schedule,” said Wade.

“Popular options continue to be skiing trips around the October mid-term or Christmas — or visits to some of the capital cities in Europe.

Costs for such trips can range from around €500 to €1,000.” Should you have a child in, or near, transition year, set aside a few bob each week so that you’re better prepared for the cost of the tour. “Remember, school tours are not obligatory and parents can choose to opt out for financial or other personal reasons,” said Erskine.

After-school care

For working parents, the cost of after-school care can run into the thousands over the year — particularly if you have two or more children. You could easily pay between €500 and €700 a month for after-school care in a creche for one child. Check for any after-school clubs as these may be available at only a nominal cost — though hours can be limited and therefore not enough for you.

A local childminder may work out cheaper than a creche. You may be able to hire one at a rate of €5 an hour for one child — or €25 a day for after-school care, though rates vary considerably and could be as high as €10 an hour. Au pairs are also an option — though you must now pay au pairs the minimum wage, or more. Some childminders also charge the minimum wage.

Other big costs

The cost of big-ticket events such as Communion, Confirmation or Debs (if you have one on this year) can run into the thousands. Other bills which crop up throughout the year include the voluntary contribution — or other fundraising activities by your school, school transport, and birthday parties.

The cost of digital ebooks and technology devices in secondary school can be hard to manage. “We are already hearing lots of concern as to how parents will meet the costs of their child’s secondary school technology bill without getting into debt,” said Erskine.

As with any major household expense, careful planning and budgeting can help to keep school expenses in check. Start to budget and plan now — if you haven’t already done so.

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