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Cost of Living

'We've no way to buy cheaper uniforms': Parents facing price hikes ahead of new school term

Poverty campaigners and parents’ groups fear that back-to-school costs will be compounded this year by the cost-of-living crisis.

CAMPAIGNERS HAVE URGED schools to be “extra cognisant” of students and families who are struggling to afford books and uniforms ahead of the new school year.

Poverty campaigners and parents’ groups frequently highlight the cost of going back to school every summer, but there are fears that the financial burden on parents will be compounded this year by the cost-of-living crisis.

One parent-of-four in the west of the country, who spoke to The Journal on condition of anonymity, said her children’s school had recently announced a new uniform to be introduced in September.

The new uniform includes a crested jumper, tie and a tracksuit top and bottoms that are only available from one shop in the area, the parent said.

This is despite a 2017 circular from the Department of Education telling schools that “all elements of a school uniform should be purchasable from various stores” and “only iron-on or sew-on crests should be used”.

The parent said: “We’ve no way to buy cheaper and I don’t think it’s fair – for us personally, we can afford a uniform and I’m happy to have a uniform. But it’s more of the principle behind it, that it’s at the cost of the parents and that’s it.

With a generic jumper or tracksuit “I could afford to buy two, I don’t have to do that midweek wash.”

They added that the school was not phasing in the new uniform for incoming junior infants: “It’s everyone, from junior to sixth class … and it’ll only be available in August.”

The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul said that many of the calls it receives “relate to requests for financial help with parental contributions, schoolbooks, digital equipment, and the cost of school uniforms”.

An SVP spokesperson told The Journal there are a number of “poverty-proofing strategies” for schools, including spreading the cost of in-school activities over the course of the school year and alternatives for low-income families such as waivers and payment plans.

They added: “Based on SVP’s work in communities it sees how teachers and principals work hard to reduce the impact of poverty on children’s experiences at school.” 


Kathryn Corbett, the principal of Bishop Galvin National School in Dublin 6W, said that while uniforms represent a significant cost upfront, she believes they are more cost-effective over the course of the year than having students wear their own clothes.

She told this publication: “It’s the same conversation every year, the cost of going back to school, but there’s never any solutions proposed.”

She said her school’s uniform supplier has increased its prices, a move it said was a result of supply issues caused by Covid and Brexit.

She said parents would face “additional challenges” with costs this year, “but it always is an expensive time”.

In a statement to The Journal, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said that the government is “committed to reducing the burden on parents in relation to back to school costs”.

Under the measures outlined in the 2017 circular, schools are required to select school uniform items which are generic and can be purchased from an array of retailers. Only “iron on” or “sew on” crests should be used.

“The circular also sets out that schools should consult with parents on their views and suggestions on cost reduction initiatives in relation to school uniforms,” a Department spokesperson said.

They also said that schools are expected to “adopt a cost-conscious approach” to the selection of textbooks.

“Under the Book Rental Scheme, the Department provided funding of €17.2 million in 2021 to schools. 96% of primary schools and 69% of post primary schools operate a book rental scheme for parents,” they added.

A 2019 Barnardos report on the real cost of school said that average cost of books for a primary-school pupil is €85.

Single parents

Louise Bayliss, the founder and spokesperson of Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids (SPARK), said that one-income households are particularly vulnerable to price increases.

“You’re relying on one income and you’re not getting help like the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance,” she said.

“Normally from about August, you hear parents starting to worry about back to school or maybe even mid-July, but it’s already started. It started before school even finished.”

Bayliss, who is also on the SVP social justice committee, says that while a lot of schools are accommodating, she sees instances of children being “shamed” for not having the correct uniform or textbooks every year.

“I definitely think the schools need to be more understanding,” she said.

“I know [the high costs] aren’t a school’s fault … but there are things that schools can do to make things better.”

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