herald

Thursday 15 November 2018

Back-to-school costs up as parents subsidising 'under-funded' system

Daisy O’Connor and Patrick Regan (both 6) at the launch of the annual Barnardos school costs survey
Daisy O’Connor and Patrick Regan (both 6) at the launch of the annual Barnardos school costs survey

Back-to-school costs are running well above the rate of inflation, despite a pledge by Education Minister Richard Bruton to ease the burden on parents.

More families are being forced to borrow to cover expenses such as the voluntary contribution to their child's school, uniforms and books, according to a survey of more than 2,000 parents by the children's advocacy organisation Barnardos.

Spending

The basic cost of sending a first-year pupil to post-primary school next month is €765, while it is €380 for a fourth class primary pupil and €360 for a senior infants' pupil, Barnardos found.

Overall, average back-to-school costs are up by between 3pc and 9pc on last year, well ahead of the consumer price index (CPI), which was up 0.4pc in the 12 months to June.

The gap was even greater for clothing and footwear, with parents facing increased costs of up to 22pc, despite a drop in the year-on-year rate of inflation for this spending category.

The average cost of a second-level uniform is €200.

Fifty-three per cent of primary school parents and 54pc of post-primary school parents reported an increase in book costs this year.

More schools are also seeking a voluntary contribution from parents to help pay for day-to-day running costs, a trend that is probably linked to the austerity era cuts in state grants that have not been restored.

According to the survey, 67pc of primary school parents (up 11pc on last year) and 71pc of post-primary school parents (up 2pc) were asked for a contribution.

The burden of back-to-school costs has seen more parents going into debt - 21pc of post-primary parents and 11pc at primary level are borrowing to cover the cost.

Most others either delay payment of other bills or take money out of savings.

Barnardos CEO Fergus Finlay said parents were continuing to subsidise an "under-funded" education system that claimed to be "free".

He said "enough is enough" and politicians must "tackle the burden of school costs and make the provision of free education a political priority".

He called on the Government to uphold a child's constitutional right to free primary education by committing an extra €103m a year, phased in over three years, starting with €20m in 2019 for free books.

After that, Barnardos wants an extra €127m a year to make second-level free for all.

Barnardos head of advocacy June Tinsley said that by refusing to commit a "relatively small sum of money", the Government was placing families under significant stress.

The rise comes despite a directive to schools last year from the Department of Education to reduce the burden on parents.

A department spokesperson said the Government was committed to tackling costs, which would be legally underpinned by the soon-to-be published Parent and Student Charter Bill.

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