Irish parents are “stressed out, overburdened and fed up” by the high cost of sending children back to school, according to the charity Barnardos.
In a report published on Thursday it said the Government could make school books free for all primary school children at a “minuscule” cost which would amount to just 0.2 per cent of the annual education budget.
Its annual school costs survey suggests that parents continue to spend hundreds of euro getting children ready for school at the end of this month although costs have remained largely static when compared with last year.
All told, more than 1,400 parents took part in the survey with the average cost for senior infants at €340 while parents of fourth class pupils said they would spend €380, rising to €736 for a child starting secondary school.
Almost half of all those who took part in the research said they had to forgo paying bills and cut back on other costs to meet back-to-school costs while as many as 14 per cent said they would be forced to borrow to meet the expense.
While 51 per cent of primary school parents and 46 per cent of secondary school parents reported an increase in the cost of school books, most of those who avail of a book rental scheme indicated that contributions would remain the same.
The research found that almost 70 per cent of parents were being asked for a voluntary contribution while most schools continue to ask parents to buy crested or branded uniforms.
‘Anything but equal’
"Every year for more than a decade parents have been telling Barnardos that their children's back-to-school costs place a significant financial burden upon them," Barnardos chief executive Suzanne Connolly said.
“Once more it is clear 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 accepted that developing a free education system would not happen overnight “but the Government must take the first step in creating a more equitable system”.
“Providing free books for all children would cost a minuscule amount in terms of the Department of Education’s overall budget but it would have a transformative impact in terms of all children starting off with the same resources.”
She also called on the Government to provide adequate capitation fees to schools so that voluntary contributions from parents could be made unnecessary.
In response, a spokesman for the Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the Government was “committed to tackling back-to-school costs”.
He said the Minister was “making final preparations to shortly publish the student and parent charter Bill”, which would be “key to allowing students and mothers and fathers to have a say on many aspects of life in a school, with costs being a significant issue for discussion”.
He added that over recent years “the department has been promoting measures to be adopted by schools to reduce costs, including of school uniforms” and he said there was a recognition of the “need to improve capitation funding for all schools”.
Meanwhile, the average annual cost of third-level education is €4,611 per student if they live at home with accommodation costs adding between €3,750 to €4,219 to the total, according to new research entitled The Cost of Education in Ireland, published by Zurich.
The research found that the annual cost of college student accommodation had increased by €777 this year compared to the previous academic year while transport costs have also increased with one in five students spending an average of €900 on transport each academic year.