Families forced to fork out up to €735 per child for 'free education'
Many parents are under extreme financial stress as they fork out between €340 and €735 per child to return to school this autumn, a study by the Barnardos children's charity has found.
Its 2019 School Costs survey reveals that while the average cost of school supplies and other fees is down slightly from last year, it is still too much for many parents to pay in what is supposed to be a free education system, said charity chief executive Suzanne Connolly.
"Overall, costs aren't going up but they're still too much," she told the Irish Independent. "It's a constant worry."
The online survey of 1,402 parents this month found many are forced to put off paying bills or cut back on essentials like food and heating in order to buy school clothes and books.
The average parent of a child in senior infants pays €340 for school uniforms, shoes, books, stationery, classroom resources and the so-called voluntary contribution to the school for general operating costs. This compares with an average cost of €360 in 2018.
Parents of children in fourth class are paying an average of €380 a year for the same supplies, the same as in 2018.
Meanwhile parents of secondary students can expect to pay €735 per child this year, down from €745 in 2018.
The massive financial outlay - especially for parents with more than one child in secondary school - is causing a lot of grief for families across Ireland, said Ms Connolly.
"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," she said.
One secondary school parent who took part in the anonymous survey said: "My son is due to start secondary school in August.
"I have to go short in other areas like food, etc to pay for everything. I usually shop in the reduced section in supermarkets. This is an added stress as I have to be careful that I use the reduced meat, etc, quick enough."
Another spoke of having to turn to money lenders and a credit union to make ends meet.
"I am not able to budget out of our regular household income to pay for my child going to school and will need to borrow money from (moneylender) and from the credit union to help me prepare for her secondary school," they said.
But the perennial stress and financial burden placed on parents could be greatly reduced if schools allowed parents to use uniforms with iron-on crests instead of costly bespoke uniforms, said Ms Connolly.
Barnardos also called on the Government to increase the capitation grants paid to schools and to make school books free.
"Developing a free education system will not happen overnight but the Government must take the first step in creating a more equitable system," said Ms Connolly.
"Providing free books for all children would cost a minuscule amount in terms of the Department of Education's overall budget (0.2pc) but it would have a transformative impact in terms all children starting off with the same resources."
According to the charity, it would cost around €230m a year to provide free books to both primary and secondary pupils.
Ms Connolly also said parents should also not be pressured to make voluntary contributions.