'Voluntary contribution' hits pockets hardest as school costs rise to €1,400
Back to school blues are not made any easier by costs, with some families having to fork out over €1,400 when preparing for the new academic year.
Uniforms, shoes and voluntary contributions are hitting parents particularly hard this year, as leading parenting experts highlight the pressures faced when classes return.
Laura Erskine of parenting forum Mummypages.ie said crested uniforms and contributions to schools are among the biggest spends for families.
"Our parents see the voluntary contribution as the second most expensive outlay, after shoes and uniforms," she told the Irish Independent.
"It can be €180 and can go up to €250 in some cases, particularly for secondary schools," she said. "Usually, there's no sibling discount for children in the same school.
"The voluntary contribution isn't always really voluntary," she continued, adding that some parents had reported that not paying the contribution could cause problems for their children at school.
But she stressed that many schools struggle to deal with basic expenses such as electricity bills without it.
"Schools really need the voluntary contribution to keep going," she said. "Capitation grants to schools have been drastically cut in the recessionary years, and schools are really struggling."
In a study last month, Mummypages.ie found parents can pay as much as €764 for a primary school child and €1,485 for a secondary school student when preparing to go back to school each year.
Uniforms and sports gear tended to be the dearest, with €178 for primary level and €313 for second level.
Separately, Barnardos found that 87pc of primary schools and 98pc of secondary schools require uniforms.
A non-crested uniform can be bought for 16pc of primary schools and 2pc of secondary schools.
Meanwhile, Rita O'Reilly of Parentline said calls to the advice service had been on the increase since August.
She also recalled that one year she spent €400 on books alone when her daughter was going into secondary school.
"I didn't question if she really needed all those copies," she said.
Ms O'Reilly also highlighted the extra spend on students entering third level.
"Between bus tickets, keeping them in the clear money-wise and registration fees, it's a huge expense for parents," she said, adding parents should encourage children to seek part-time work.
But the inevitable spend isn't the only pressure facing families at this time of year.
Niamh Hannan, a Dublin-based clinical psychologist, pointed out the psychological stresses that emerge when heading back to school.
"Some kids are exhausted by their first week, so it's important to be prepared for the mood swings and the tantrums, if they are younger," she said.
"For secondary school kids it can be a massive change; it can take until Halloween or Christmas to really settle in."
Tips to reduce costs and ease stress levels
- As dreadful as early mornings are, parenting experts agree that it's best to get back into normal school routines as soon as possible. Some even recommended that families get used to early bedtimes before school had even started back to reduce last-minute morning rushes during the first week.
- While crested uniforms are essential for most schools, parents can opt to mix official jumpers with non-branded items.
- Always look for second-hand options when completing the book list, while hand-me-down uniform items can prove cost-effective and as good as what's brand new.
- While some parents feel their wallets are lighter come September, lost and found boxes in schools can get heavier. Be sure to label all bags, pencil cases, clothes and other items that your child may bring to school.
- Where new books are an essential buy, make them a worthwhile investment by ensuring they are covered. Not only will it ensure your child's book is identifiable, it will also help it last the testing year ahead and will increase its resale value.
- Not all children will accept the new routine, so come up with ideas to incentivise leaving the house on time. Star charts and small prizes for being organised will encourage less motivated kids to take an interest in getting on top of things.
- While ballet classes and football clubs beckon, resist the urge to enrol children in all the extra-curricular activities on offer. Try one or two after-school classes to see which ones your child truly enjoys before signing up for lots.
- It's also important for parents to look after themselves too. Once the madness settles, meeting up with friends or getting exercise is recommended. Chatting to other mothers and fathers at the school gates can also relieve some of the pressure.