Sharp rise in schools seeking ‘voluntary contribution’, says Barnardos

Charity says parents forced to subsidise education system

Pictured (from left) Daisy O’Connor (6); Fergus Finlay, Barnardos CEO and Patrick Regan (6). Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Government inaction means parents are once again being forced to subsidise an “underfunded education system” with the number of schools asking for a so-called “voluntary contribution” rising sharply over the past 12 months, according to the Barnardos annual school costs survey published on Thursday.

When the cost of clothes, shoes, books, stationery, classroom resources and the voluntary contribution were totted up, the cost of sending a child into senior infants was put at €360, up from €355 last year while the cost of sending a child into secondary school was put at €765, marginally less than last year.

According to the survey, parents with children in senior infants will spend an average of €100 on clothes, with clothes for fourth-class children climbing to €115 and to €245 for those entering secondary school. Shoes for primary school children have an average price of €50, while in secondary school the average was put at €70.

The survey reveals significant price discrepancies between primary and secondary school books with parents of a child in senior infants set to spend €75, with the sums spent reaching €240 if a child is going into first year.


The average cost of the voluntary contribution was €85 for children in senior infants and €135 for a child in secondary school.

According to the survey, the number of parents being asked to pay a voluntary contribution has increased since last year with 67 per cent of primary school parents saying they had been asked for a voluntary contribution – up 11 per cent on last year; 71 per cent of secondary-school parents had been asked to pay a contribution – up 2 per cent on last year.

It also reports that more than 50 per cent of parents said they had noticed an increase in the cost of school books this year.

More parents are going into debt to cover the cost of a so-called free education with 11 per cent of primary-school parents and 21 per cent of secondary-school parents telling Barnardos they had been forced to borrow money to cover school costs.

A majority of the 2,200 parents surveyed either delay payment of other bills or take money out of savings

Political priority

Barnardos repeated its call on all politicians “to finally tackle the burden of school costs” and make the provision of free education a political priority.

“We’ve heard from parents across the country that they are tired of having to pay for so called ‘free education’,” the charity’s chief executive Fergus Finlay said. “They are fed-up being forced to amass debt or fall behind on essential bills year after year in order to cover the most basic costs of their children’s education.”

Among the recommendations made by Barnardos was for the Government to “uphold a child’s constitutional right to free primary education by committing in Budget 2019 to invest an extra €103.2 million annually to make it reality for all children”.

The charity said this could be phased-in over a three-year period beginning with investing €20 million to provide free school books for all.

It also said the Government should commit to investing €126.9 million annually “to make secondary education free for all children once free primary education has been achieved and to ensure schools’ boards of management’s adherence to the Department of Education circular re school uniform policy to take tangible measures to reduce the costs on parents.”

And it called for steps to be taken to "synchronise the income thresholds so all family types and all those in receipt of Working Family Payment are eligible for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance".

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor