Record numbers of parents struggling to cover the cost of food, clothes, transition year, voluntary contributions and the technology some schools insist on made contact with Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP)last month.
Over 5,000 families have contacted the society in recent weeks looking for help to cover the cost of sending their children back to school.
"Particularly at this time of the year, families approach SVP for help with utility bills or food shopping because of the pressure of buying uniforms, books and other materials and paying for the so-called 'voluntary' contribution," said SVP spokesperson Tricia Keilthy.
“Back-to-school this week has been a really exciting time for lots of children and their parents. But for many low income and struggling households, the preparation for the new school year has been a huge source of stress and anxiety, with the prospect of further requests throughout the year for contributions for education, exam and extra-curricular expenses.”
She said that along with the ordinary costs of school, some of the emerging issues the society is dealing with include the “huge costs of Transition Year registration and trips and an increasing requirement for expensive digital devices”.
Ms Keilthy said that while doing well in school can break the cycle of poverty “if children don’t have the materials they need to learn, if they feel different because their uniform is too small, or they can’t take part in activities like their friends, that really influences their experience of school and educational progress.”
She said that if, as a society, “we really want all to children to have good opportunities, we have to stop making cost a barrier to participation.”
The SVP has called calling on the Minister for Education to start to make free education a reality with proper funding for schools and additional supports for parents.
While the increase in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance this year was welcome, it remains significantly below 2011 levels.
SVP members visit many families with parents in low income work who are a few euros above the threshold and receive no state assistance.
Capitation grants have also been reduced since 2010 meaning schools are seeking contributions from families to subsidise running costs.