More than two-thirds of primary school parents and three-quarters of secondary school parents are worried about meeting school costs this year, according to a survey carried out by Barnardos.
The basic cost of sending a child to school in 2022 remains substantial across primary and secondary level. The average cost needed for a fourth class pupil is €424, while a first year pupil is €814 and a fifth year pupil is €722, according to the survey.
Almost half of parents said recent cost of living increases have made it more difficult to meet school costs.
The is despite the Government’s increase of the back to school allowance by €100 to reduce pressures on families.
As a result, Barnardos is calling on the Government to implement measures in Budget 2023 to alleviate the pressure facing families.
These measures include providing free schoolbooks to children, ensuring schools have an option of an affordable uniform, maintaining the back to school allowance and ending voluntary contributions.
One secondary school parent shared her views in the survey and said: “I bought all books for first year, then was told she needed an iPad. I had to borrow for that. I struggled so much last year then Christmas came I was in so much debt I found it hard to pay off. This caused me stress and anxiety - I couldn’t sleep at night. I felt like such a failure not being able to provide for my children. I am so worried about this year.”
"I can't afford back to school costs without having to miss meals to cover it. God forbid how we'll heat the house come winter," said another secondary school parent.
Parent spokesperson Sarah, a mother to four children, three of which attend primary school, said: "Living in a rural area, it's not just the school costs it's also the huge costs of transporting the children to school.
"Fuel, tax, insurance, the living costs in the home, heating food and electricity. We have no other choices to get children to school, it has gone beyond crazy at the cost of living these days. The government need to spend time in the real world.’"
Suzanne Connolly, Barnardos CEO, said: “Barnardos is calling on the Government to take further steps in providing free education by introducing free schoolbooks, ensuring all schools allow for affordable uniforms, ending voluntary contributions and maintaining the recent increase in the back to school clothing and footwear allowance.
“The Government has increased the back to school allowance this year by €100 to reduce pressures on families, something Barnardos very much welcomes. However, we think the Government could go further and set out plans to provide genuinely free school system for all children.
“The underfunding of schools has meant that parents are left trying to help schools meet shortfalls in funding through voluntary contributions. The Government must provide adequate funding to schools so that they no longer have to rely on additional contributions from parents.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, said: “The findings of the Barnardos survey about back to school costs are extremely worrying and expose the extent of the real crisis families are experiencing. It is clear that the Government must now listen and take action immediately. Families can’t wait.”
While Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said it’s time to make education genuinely free.
Mr Ó Ríordáin said: “It’s time for a step change from this government and see movement to making education genuinely free. From the Barnardos report, it’s clear that the increase in the back to school allowance is only tinkering around the edges. What is needed is for the State to provide for books, shoes, uniforms for children in September."