School costs still ‘crippingly expensive’, says Barnardos

Free education ‘a joke’ as cost of sending child into secondary school stays over €700

The State’s “free” education system remains “cripplingly expensive” and will cost parents with two children in secondary school almost €2000, reports Barnardo’s children’s charity Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

The State’s “free” education system remains “cripplingly expensive” and will cost parents with two children in secondary school almost €2000, reports Barnardo’s children’s charity Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

Tue, Jul 29, 2014, 09:16

Back-to-school costs have fallen slightly according to a major survey published this morning by the children’s charity Barnardos although the State’s “free” education system remains “cripplingly expensive” and will cost parents with two children in secondary school almost €2000.

The charity surveyed over 2,000 parents to assess the real cost of getting their children ready to go back to school and it found that the run-up to September was “a hugely stressful time for many parents as they worry about how to pay for all that is required”.

In total, 2,027 parents completed the online survey, the highest number in its nine year history. “It is a time of year dreaded by many parents as it so stressful. While some efforts have been made at national level and by some schools to address these costs on parents, there is a strong feeling that Government and schools are out of touch with the struggles faced by parents,” the charity said.

It said the ‘free education’ system was seen as a joke with many parents pushed to breaking point, and “often ending up in debt and using money lenders or loans from family to meet the costs”.

Overall, the survey showed some savings for parents in certain categories especially for those with primary school children. It found evidence that schools are acknowledging the pressure on parents and changing their policies regarding uniforms, introducing school book rental schemes and reducing costs like stationery and other classroom sundries.

The cost of sending a child into senior infants was put at €345, down from €350 last year. While the parents of a child in fourth class will need to find €380, €20 less than last year. The cost of kitting out a child starting second level, meanwhile, was put at €735 a fall of €50 on last year’s figure.

Despite the fall in some areas, Barnardos described the cost of school books as “exorbitant especially for those with children entering first and fifth year in secondary school, as they are beginning the Junior and Leaving Certificate cycles”.

Parents expressed continued anger at the inability to pass books on due to new editions being published and these editions being prescribed by the teacher or the teacher choosing different books altogether for that subject. Parents once more expressed their frustration at the prevalence of one-time use workbooks, particularly in primary schools.

At primary school level, the majority of parents continue to spend on average between €76 and €100 on books. However, in secondary school the amount spent has increased, with three in 10 parents paying in excess of €300.

Like last year, the survey found huge variance between the costs of school books within classes. For instance in 4th class, some parents are paying around €85 for books while others are paying over €140 for books to cover the same curriculum.

The charity said the difference in price “may be due to school book rental schemes being in operation or some teachers consciously choosing cheaper and fewer books to put on the booklist”.

“Having such disparity adds to parents’ frustrations and undermines the sense that everyone has the same access and chances to benefit from education.”

It highlighted an increased use of digital devices by teachers and pupils but said the use of such devices was being done the absence of a national digital strategy which is still being drafted by the Department of Education. As a result, parents’ experiences vary greatly with some expected to come up with €850 to cover the cost of the device and the apps needed.

The survey found that 65 per cent of parents of primary school pupils and 76 per cent of parents of secondary school pupils had been asked for a voluntary contribution with significant variations in the amount sought. Most primary schools sought €50 from parents, although20 per cent asked for a donation of €100-€150.

“More than 2,000 parents have spoken to us and made clear that a ‘free’ education is in fact cripplingly expensive in Ireland. Not only do parents have to face massive costs to get their children to school, there is huge variance in the figures,” the charity said. It said some families were “at the mercy of local circumstance, which is simply not fair. Especially as inevitably it is the families already struggling who are hit hardest”.