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Calls for changes to school uniforms to ease sting on parents' pockets

A new survey by Barnardo’s has shown parents of first year secondary students paying almost €800 to send their child to school.

Image: Shutterstock/Volt Collection

SCHOOLS HAVE BEEN called on to change their school uniform policies after figures from Barnardos showed that parents face exorbitant back-to-school costs.

The children’s charity’s new report found that it costs close to €800 to send a child into the first year of secondary school, and more than €300 for a child heading into a junior infants class – with clothing taking up around a quarter of this.

Nationally, around 98% of parents of secondary school students and 87% of parents of primary school students send their children to schools that use a crested or school-branded uniform.

costs Source: Barnardos

Click here to view a larger version of the above image. 

“Unbranded or generic uniforms are usually substantially less expensive and more easily available than their branded or crested counterparts,” said the report, “so it is disappointing to see the trend towards school-specific uniforms continuing.”

Generic uniforms 

“Every September we have the absurd situation where families have to go into debt to pay for school uniforms,” said Fianna Fail’s spokesperson on Children and Youth Affairs Anne Rabbitte.

A grievance for Rabbitte is that despite the annual release of shocking back-to-school costs, schools have “not taken on board calls to make school uniforms more cost effective”.

She’s not wrong.

The issue has been on the political agenda for at least the past five years, and in 2013 Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn carried out a consultation between parents and schools about what types of uniforms they would be happy with.

It was hoped at this would lead to a reduction in costs for parents with options for iron-on crests.

Still – as shown above – most schools still opt for crested or branded uniforms.

‘A more challenging area ‘

A back to school clothing and footwear allowance is in place, but the money provided by it (€100 for a child aged four to 11 or €200 for an older child aged 12 to 18) does not fully cover the cost incurred by parents.

Speaking in the Dáil last year, former Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan described what she thought had to be done to fix the problem.

13/10/2015. Budget 2016. Pictured is Fine Gael Min former Minister for Education Jan O'Sullivan Source: RollingNews.ie

The then minister described it as a “more challenging area for government to tackle”.

“It is of course up to each individual school to decide their own policy,” she said, “however, I want to see greater consultation and greater involvement of parents in these decisions.”

And so that is my focus in this area – giving parents a greater say in school policies that affect them.

New Minister for Education Richard Bruton is yet to address the issue in the Dáil, but can be sure it will be high up the agenda when he returns at the end of September.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, his department said that the Minister “strongly supports any measures that can be put in place to reduce uniform costs for parents including measures such as the use of generic type uniforms or the use of ‘sew on’ crests.”

It is important that schools should consult parents on matters relating to their children’s education, including those matters which have cost implications, and schools should be responsive to the views and concerns of parents.
In that regard requiring schools to have a parent charter will help ensure that schools will interact better with parent associations and with individual parents.

Read: It now costs almost €800 to send a child to first year in secondary school

Also: Back to school costs fall in 2014 but are still ‘crippling too many families’

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