Rising numbers of parents falling into debt to cover back-to-school costs

More than a third of parents taking out loans to pay for uniforms and books

Rising numbers of parents say they are falling into debt in order to cover back-to-school costs .

An annual school-costs survey commissioned by the Irish League of Credit Unions indicates that parents are now spending on average of €999 per primary school child and €1,379 per secondary school pupil.

These figures are down slightly on last year due mainly to reductions in the price of extracurricular activities, transport and after-school care.

However, more than a third (36 per cent) of parents say they are taking out loans in order to meet the costs. This is up from last year (29 per cent). Average debt levels at primary level are €367 and at second level are €443.


Two out of three parents in the national study agreed that back-to-school costs were a financial burden.

Almost half said the costs were their biggest back-to-school related worry, well ahead of concerns that children will not settle or make friends.

Those who say they will be forced to deny their children certain items has also increased, rising from one in four last year to almost a third this year.

Of this group, four in 10 say they cannot afford new school shoes, while seven in 10 say they will have to cut down on extra-curricular activities.


Other areas of spending being sacrificed to pay for back to school costs include family holidays, spending on household bills and food.

According to parents, the biggest spend for primary school children is again extra-curricular activities at €153 per child, followed by school lunches at €142 and after-school care at €140.

For secondary-school, parents say the most expensive item is again books at €200, followed by uniforms at €179 and school lunches and transport both costing €175 each.

Of those parents in debt, more than a quarter say they have turned to a moneylender in an effort to cope with back-to-school costs.

This is up from a fifth last year. Of this group in debt, three in ten said they have borrowed between €400 and €500, while more than a quarter said they had borrowed more than €800.

Parents said the went to moneylenders because they felt they would be guaranteed the money and the approval processes in banks and credit unions would be more difficult.

Book rental

Almost seven in 10 parents said schools are not doing enough to keep costs down. When asked how schools could do more to help parents, almost a third said reducing the price of books or introducing a book rental scheme. Others said the option of generic uniforms or even free uniforms would help.

Paul Bailey, head of communications for the Irish League of Credit Unions, said it was clear that families were continuing to struggle to cope with the cost of sending their children to school despite the economic recovery.

“It’s somewhat encouraging that parents are reporting that costs have reduced a little since last year, but at the same time we are seeing increasing numbers of parents saying they are in debt, and a rise in the numbers saying they are turning to moneylenders,” he said.

Back to school costs;

€999: average cost for primary schoolchildren

€1,379: average cost for primary schoolchildren

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent