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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 19 December, 2018
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Opinion: I'm already worried about how I'll pay for my children to go back to school

Our children’s education must not depend on their parents’ ability to pay.

Aishling Silke

NEXT MONTH, LIKE thousands of parents across the country, I will be sending my two children back to school after a summer of lie-ins, family outings and the occasional squabble.

And, again, like thousands of parents across the country, I am already worrying about how I will be able to pay for it all.

On paper I appear luckier than many. I’m married, so our household has two incomes. However, we are both self-employed in low paying businesses.

My own business, a preschool, actually closed down for two months over the summer so I had no income during those months. But nevertheless, we are deemed to be over the threshold and so are not entitled to any financial support.

The costs add up 

And yet already I have spent more than €800 getting my children ready for school – and that’s before I’ve bought the books for my 15-year-old son, as the school hasn’t finalised the book list yet.

These costs include €25 on a crested school jumper and another €25 on a crested PE sweatshirt, plus books, shoes, runners, etc, for my daughter, Róisín (10) who is going into 5th class.

Luckily her school has a book rental scheme (put in place after parent pressure) so book costs are set at €60. But last year the cost was much higher as we had to buy all the books at full price to start it off.

My son, Steven, is about to start transition year. Before he even steps out of the house I will have bought him a full, new crested uniform – at this age he is growing so quickly he needed everything replaced.

To add insult to injury, the crested jumpers are subject to 23% VAT because he is in adult sizes. This is despite the fact these are crested school jumpers.

There is also the fee for transition year activities, which is €200. And that doesn’t include other incidental costs that crop up during the school year.

I am not at all anti-uniform and I have no problem with crested options, but I just want the crests to be sold separately so parents have a choice about where to buy basic school uniform items. I think this has to be enforced in all schools.

One message 

We need the government to show clear leadership on this. They must also ensure there are comprehensive and effective book rental schemes in all schools.

And if I had one message I could send Jan O’Sullivan – it’s that I believe there should be a universal back to school allowance for all parents.

People might think working parents don’t need it, but we’re all struggling.

When you add up the cost of the uniform, school books, voluntary contribution and stationery costs – never mind additional extras like school bags, shoes and art supplies you are facing a bill of hundreds (if not thousands) of euro.

As the Barnardos annual school costs survey found, Ireland’s ‘free’ education system is, in fact, far from free.

Although the findings (from more than 2,000 respondents) showed that on average, basic back-to-school costs were levelling off, a huge number of parents spoke about the massive pressure they were under trying to find money.

Barnardos has been doing this survey for nine years, when are the government and schools going to listen?

It’s clear our children’s education must not depend on their parents’ ability to pay. All children must have access to a free, high quality education system – whatever their family circumstances.

Aishling Silke is businesswoman and mother of two. Her daughter Roisin is in primary school while her son Steven is in secondary. She took part in Barnardos School Costs survey this year.

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

Read: How much does it cost to send your kid to school?>

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Aishling Silke

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