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Dublin: 15°C Saturday 31 July 2021

Column: Tantrums, taunts & bills - the struggle of sending kids back to school

Lesley Anderson, a single mother of two children, tells her story about the difficulties she faces meeting the ‘back to school’ costs.

Lesley Anderson

Lesley Anderson, a single mother with two children says the ‘back to school’ costs all add up.

EACH YEAR THE costs involved in getting kids back to school reach even dizzier heights and as a lone parent (now relying partially on some benefits and some income from a part time job), whose children are now both in secondary school, I have first hand experience of how difficult it can be to make sure they have everything they need come that first day back at school.

I am a 43-year-old mother of two children, a boy age 15 just over his Junior Certificate and beginning his transition year and a girl going into second year in a Donegal school.

Gone are the days when I could just pop in to Dunnes and buy the cheapest grey trousers, white polo shirts and navy blue jumpers which were just the ticket for the rough and tumble of the primary school playground. But not any more, now things are serious.

School jumper costs an unbelievable €46

My sons uniform consists of royal blue jumper with school crest costing an unbelievable €46 each! Of course he needs two, one clean one and one in the wash. The white shirts and trousers thankfully can be purchased wherever I can buy them cheapest but he still needs three pairs of trousers and three to four white shirts a week and of course two school ties, black socks and black leather shoes as his school does not allow them to wear sports shoes of any kind except during PE class.

Unfortunately  my son is now 5’9″ and into men’s sizes when it comes to clothes and shoes! My daughter also has to wear the school jumper, but the blouses the girls wear are a specific blue and white gingham check that I have found impossible to buy anywhere else except the school uniform shop, even searching online brought no joy. At least she is able to wear black trousers which are reasonable enough to buy in Tesco or Dunnes but she must also have the school royal blue pinafore which costs €45. Thank god I had the sense to buy last year’s a little bit big for her so she will get another year out of it. (Sorry darling I know it looks like a tent but you can always wear a belt and fold the pinafore up, you just won’t be able to take off your jumper.) That’s if she doesn’t put in a growth spurt like her brother when he grew two inches this summer.

She also must have black leather shoes which cost me €60, and they were on sale. I defy anyone to find a good pair of girls’ shoes that actually have laces, that will keep the feet dry as they slosh through the puddles and don’t resemble a pair of bedroom slippers for anything less than what I paid – believe me I searched long and hard.

Tantrums and taunts

After the uniform there comes the school PE kit which for boys is a special school shirt (€40) and white football shorts and a hooded sweatshirt (another €40) plus a man’s size 11 trainers and we all know how expensive they can be!

As for parents saying ‘You can always buy cheap ones, they don’t have to be brand ones’? That’s just a load of tosh – we all know the tantrums and taunts that can arise when a teenager doesn’t have the ‘in’ brands.

Girls have to have the school PE shirt, blue shorts and as their school plays hockey they must also have a ‘skort’ for PE. What is a ‘skort’ I hear you ask? It’s a pair of shorts with a skirt attached over the top that hockey players apparently wear for modesty as the skirts are so short! Usually costing about €20 – yes €20 euro for a mere wisp of cloth that is more like a napkin than a skirt – all that plus the hooded school sweatshirt and trainers, in the brand that she deems suitable and I deem to be practical, certainly mounts up. To top it all, my two beautiful children have shown their talents on the hockey field and are now playing for their school teams, so each of them must have the school hockey team uniform priced at a delightful €80.

Where does it all end?

Then there are the school bags to carry all those lovely new books they will receive within the first week, that we have yet to pay for. These bags of course have to be branded otherwise life at school will just not be worth living. I have stomped out of sports shops twice already this summer red in the face and seething with rage as I search in vain for a compromise between a bag large enough and sturdy enough to hold all those books without the possibility of giving the kids curved spines at some point in the future and a bag that they agree is cool enough to be seen with. I refuse to spend €40-€50 on a schoolbag for each of them but with days left till term starts I may have to concede.

As an added bonus I need to consider their hockey sticks which as the kids grow, must get bigger too! And they need the special bags to carry these sticks in plus the shin pads and gum guards. My God, where does it all end?

To top it all off they must have a good coat to keep out the lovely Irish winter weather and it has to be the coat designated by the school. Yes I know it is a sensible waterproof fleece lined jacket with hood and little reflective panels so they can be seen on those dark evenings – but seriously, that’s another €50 each.

My daughter has informed me of her sheer disgust this year in having to use her brother’s hand me down school coat as it was worn by a boy. I attempted to explain in vain to her that the coat is unisex and that there is no difference but 14 year old girls don’t buy that logic no matter how nicely you dress it up.

Back to school allowance

As a lone parent I am entitled to the back to school clothing and footwear allowance which this year amounted to €500 in total for two children, but if you add up everything that the typical school requires, the total outgoings for the start of the new school year is… well I’m afraid to add all those receipts together and acknowledge the cost of what I have already spent. I might give myself a stroke.

Last year I was entitled to the school book grant yet I had to spend over €200 on books and equipment that was not included in the grant but that was essential and according to the school – necessary.

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Sweating from the economic strain

The previous year I was in a financial position where I was not entitled to help and the bill for books came in at just under €300. Not much of a grant when you compare the two years worth of books. According to a recent reports we have costly iPads and e-books to look forward to paying for in the near future.

Sometimes I consider the pros of home schooling, at least you can get books from the local library for free.

Other parents I know are in much the same position as myself and sweating from the economic strain. We are making sacrifices to ensure our children have everything they need and that they are well equipped to make the most of their education, which nowadays, considering the state of our economy and their prospects for the future, is even more important.

Are our the recently voted in members of the Dáil aware at all when they slap yet another ridiculous charge on an already squashed economy? As long as things are rosy on planet Dáil I’m sure they aren’t too bothered about us.

Making sacrifices to save money

I myself  rarely socialise anymore unless for a very, and I mean very special occasion, and I would tend to buy second hand or the cheapest clothes from Penneys or even the St Vincents, preferring to put money aside every week for the kids as I know the new school year comes around very quickly and it will, without a doubt, cost me hundreds.

Its the small things I miss these days, like being able to go to the hairdresser whenever I need to (my last trip was just before Christmas last year, I’m not lying) or treating myself to a magazine or a cup of coffee out somewhere with a couple of my friends. These are the small insignificant purchases that so many take for granted as a normal part of life – yet I know that to meet my obligations in August I cannot have these things anymore and that I must save a little money. It’s a sad state of affairs and after a lifetime of employment and paying taxes I never thought I would be here, but such is the reality I live in.

But I know I am not alone. There is some comfort in that thought.

Graphic of the Day: Barnardos’ School Costs Survey>

Parents anticipating back-to-school costs of up to €620 a child>

About the author:

Lesley Anderson

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