Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Parents "cut back on food" to pay back-to-school costs

Parents have told Barnardos that they are struggling to pay school expenses for their children.

PARENTS ARE GOING without food and paying bills because of school costs, Barnardos said today.

The children’s charity surveyed 1000 parents about the cost of sending their children to school, with some respondents expressing frustration and anger at the expense.


Barnardos said that although the findings indicate some reductions in the average costs since 2011, “it is unsurprising that parents feel the collective costs have risen when their overall household budgets have decreased and the rate of Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance has reduced”.

It also said that:

there is a sense that parents are being too heavily relied upon by some schools to make up the shortfall arising from lower capitation grants from the Department of Education and Skills.

Barnardos’ CEO, Fergus Finlay, said:

Each year in Barnardos’ School Costs Survey parents express their frustration at the high cost of sending children to school. This year, however, the parents who responded to our survey are also showing real fear and concern at how they are going to make sure their children have what they need to get an education. Many parents are being forced to make very difficult choices and many are getting into debt to pay for uniforms, books and other education expenses. Concrete solutions for tackling the costs associated with sending children to school are long overdue.

Basic costs

The basic cost of sending a child aged six to senior infants has risen from €350 to €355. The cost of sending a child aged 10 into fourth class has dropped from €470 to €390.

Meanwhile, the back to school clothing and footwear allowance for either child has dropped from €200 to €150 each in one year.

Secondary school costs have dropped from €805 to €770, while the allowance for such students has dropped from €305 to €250.

The number of children benefiting from the back to school allowance has grown, with a 113 per cent increase between 2007 and 2012. Barnardos described this as “a startling indication of the reduction in parental incomes and their subsequent inability to cope with the school costs”.


In total, 72 per cent of parents said their children in primary schools require uniforms with the school crest on them, which means going to a specific retailer.  One parent questioned the practice of schools not allowing parents to attach a crest to a generic jumper.

Parents are paying approximately €100 for a primary school pupil’s uniform, while secondary school pupils’ uniform costs are higher – 17 per cent of parents pay €150  €174; 17 per cent spend €175 – €200; and 15 per cent spend more than €250.


The survey showed that the cost of school books is usually the biggest expense for parents, especially those with children entering 1st and 5th year in secondary school.

The majority of parents are spending on average between €76 – €100 for books for a primary school pupil and over €250 for a secondary school pupil.

Parents criticise the fact they can’t pass books on between siblings due to new editions being prescribed by the teacher. Barnardos said that it is likely that this issue will be addressed over time as a result of the Code of Practice in operation among publishers, prohibiting the printing of new editions for a minimum of six years.

Regarding free school books, Barnardos called on the Government to look to neighbouring jurisdictions that have been operating free school book systems for children for decades.

The survey found that 50 per cent of respondents have school book rental schemes in schools in primary school and 40 per cent in secondary school.

Voluntary contribution

The survey found that 65 per cent of parents of primary school pupils and 76 per cent of parents of secondary school pupils have been asked for a voluntary contribution.

The amounts sought vary significantly within primary schools, from €50 to €150. In secondary schools, the majority of parents are being asked to donate €100 – €150.

Most schools seek additional contributions to cover school stationery and photocopying costs.

Digital books

Some schools require students to purchase digital books or tablets. A number of parents noted the substantial cost of buying an iPad and the additional cost of digital school books.

Barnardos believes that the debate around e-books must be broadened to look at low cost options for the supply of digital texts to schools in the medium and long-term in Ireland.


Fees for availing of the school transport scheme increased in Budget 2012 and are now €100 for a primary school pupil (with a maximum of €220 per family) and €350 per secondary school student (with a maximum of €650 per family).


There has been an overall reduction in teacher numbers and specific cuts affecting direct supports to students such as Resource Teachers, Language Support Teachers, Special Needs Assistants, Visiting Teachers for Travellers and Guidance Teachers.

Parents told Barnardos:

  • “We cut back on food and let other bills go unpaid to ensure children have what they need for school… We’re living on the edge all the time. So much for free education.”
  • “It should be mandatory for all schools to have a book rental scheme or all children should be supplied with an iPad on a rental scheme where they can download their books on to it. The cost of books is way too high and the fact that schools require that children have the latest edition means that more often than not you can not purchase them second hand. Education is definitely not free in this country.”
  • “It was a huge shock to find out it will cost at least €1000 by the start of term, never mind the other costs throughout the year. I’m a lone-parent, and a carer, I really don’t know where I will find this money. Someone is making a lot of money from the sale of school books and uniforms, and it’s the children who are suffering, be it by poorer quality food, living standards, heating etc. It’s a complete disgrace.”
  • “I did not have the money for the voluntary contribution for my daughter last year at registration, and when I spoke to the vice principal and told her my position I was told to go home and get the money and my daughter was not given her school diary or timetable as I could not provide the money on the day. This caused great embarrassment for my daughter as all her friends had theirs and knew which class they were in. The schools are not sympathetic to people whom find it hard to manage the fees and the children suffer consequently.”
  • “Even with no uniform I am struggling to afford sending my son back to school. With books and sundries it is €180, add another €80 voluntary contribution on top of that and it’s nearly impossible.”

Read: 111,000 pupils miss more than 20 school days a year>

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