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Parents fear they cannot meet back to school cost

Half of primary school parents are worried they won’t be able to meet the cost of the next term – despite the introduction of free books for national school and a hike in the Back-To-School Allowance.

The average cost of the basics needed for a fourth-class pupil is €320, a first-year pupil is €972 and a fifth-year pupil is €863, according to the annual survey by the children’s charity Barnardos.

Two-thirds of secondary school parents and half of primary school parents stated they are worried about affording those costs this year, with 27% of secondary and 14% of primary school parents admitting they were very concerned.

One in four secondary school parents said they had to take out a loan or borrow from friends in order to meet the costs. And one-third of secondary school parents stated they had to pay over €300 for digital costs for their child.

The survey, which was based on the responses of over 1,000 parents, found that parents, particularly single parents, are under greater pressure financially due to the unrelenting higher inflation costs.

Parents expressed frustration and exasperation with being compelled to pay high uniform costs, large sums for digital tools and increased voluntary contribution fees, which in reality are not really ‘voluntary’, explained Barnardos CEO Suzanne Connolly (pictured).

The charity has called on the Government to extend free schoolbooks to all secondary school children, ensure all schools have an option of a low-cost uniform, maintain the Back-to-School Allowance increase and extend Child Benefit.

They also want the capitation grant increased to school to reduce reliance of schools on voluntary contributions.

“Last year, the Government took the welcome step of introducing free schoolbooks for all primary school children. This year Barnardos is calling on the Government to continue this progress and extend free schoolbooks to all secondary school children to help to provide a genuinely free school system for all children,” she stated.

“Barnardos believes that no parent should face financial pressure in trying to meet what are essential costs for their children’s education. Parents repeatedly tell us of the need for the government to do more to reduce the struggles they face each summer.

People Before Profit’s City East candidate Denman Rooke said with one in five primary school families having to dip into savings to send their children to school, it was clear the system needs to be changed.

“Free education should be truly free – everyone should have the same access and potential of education. Working class families should not struggle to ensure the best for their children,” he insisted.

Maisie McMaster, the party’s Galway City West candidate, urged the Government to take on board the advice from Barnardos.

“We need to extend the free schoolbooks scheme to secondary schools. Secondly, lower cost uniforms must be available. Emblems, crests, and the monopolies of uniform manufacturing must be done away with.

“The Back-to-School Footwear and Clothing Allowance must be increased, along with Child Benefit, both of which were cut by previous Fine Gael governments, in coalition with Labour. Lastly, we need to abolish the voluntary contributions, which contribute to stigma and money concerns for many families.”

Adrian Curran, People Before Profit candidate for Galway City Central, said costs like uniforms, digital materials and books in secondary schools are driving the costs of education into unaffordable territory.

The Department of Social Protection has increased the back-to-school allowance by €100 per child this September.

Children aged between four and eleven will receive €260 while those from twelve and up will receive €385. The scheme remains open for applications until September 30.

The payment is for people on social welfare, participating in an approved employment, education or training scheme or earning within set limits – up to €642 per week with one child and €792 per week with four children.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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