Families in need of back-to-school support failing to qualify for allowance, survey finds


STRICT CRITERIA surrounding back-to-school allowances are excluding families who need them, according to the children’s charity Barnardos.

In its annual school costs survey, the organisation estimates the average cost of sending a child to junior infants this year is €350, rising to €805 for a student starting secondary school.

Despite the recession, the majority of respondents to the survey of more than 500 parents said that this represented a rise in costs.

“My husband is unemployed and I am on minimum wage, yet we still don’t qualify for the [back-to-school clothing and footwear] allowance,” one parent quoted in the survey said. “It’s disgraceful it is so hard to make sure our children are provided for.”

Another parent complained that it was costing €1,800 to send her three children to school this September. “My husband is currently unemployed and we are really being stretched to meet the costs,” the woman said. “We had to get a loan from the credit union to send our children to school – it’s a joke.”

Barnardos Ireland chief executive Fergus Finlay yesterday argued that the school book rental scheme should be extended to all schools, including those in non-disadvantaged areas, to help cut down on costs.

“You cannot define an area where parents are not under economic pressure – need to be in every school. Every parent suffers.”

The charity also pointed out that 56 per cent of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds attend schools that are not designated as being in disadvantaged areas under the Government’s delivering equality of opportunity in schools (DEIS) scheme.

“While DEIS schools have had some of their supports ringfenced, schools not designated as disadvantaged have had to bear the brunt of the wide range of cutbacks including loss of resource teachers, language support teachers and special needs assistants,” the charity said.

Among the big issues raised in the survey were the requirement by many schools for pupils to wear uniforms with stitched-on crests, the need to purchase new textbooks repeatedly during a child’s schooling and transport costs which affected rural students disproportionately.

“The message from parents responding to the Barnardos survey is clear: families are struggling to meet the extensive costs of sending children to school,” the charity said.

“The stress of costs that strain already stretched budgets can colour children’s perception of education, making an already uphill battle for learning even harder. Education is a right, not a privilege.”

A spokeswoman for Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn yesterday said he was considering making some funding available for schools dependent on their implementation of book rental schemes.

“At the moment, book rental schemes are done in a very much ad hoc type of way. We will be gathering information when September comes around to look at ones that have worked and ones that have not,” the spokeswoman said. She added that while making such schemes compulsory would be difficult, Mr Quinn would be encouraging as many schools as possible to use one.