Back to school costs - Principals are doing what they can to help
Primary and secondary school principals in Wexford say that they can sympathise with cash-strapped parents and are doing what they can to ease the financial burden in the face of a new school year.
Principal of St. John of God The Faythe National School in Wexford, Liam Turner, believes that local parents can certainly relate to the recent Barnardos report, saying that the expense of sending children to school is a 'huge problem'. With uniforms being one of the larger expenses that parents face, he said they decided to make some changes in the school.
'We took the decision to change to a new uniform so kids can wear the old or the new. If the kids want to wear the old one until it falls asunder, we aren't going to put any pressure on parents to buy a new one,' he explained. 'We changed it following a questionnaire that we did among the parents. They wanted to change it and we are trying to meet them halfway.'
Mr Turner said that many other schools in Wexford have made the switch to interchangeable and generic uniforms in order to meet the needs of parents. He said that he doesn't think enforcing crested uniforms is the way to go.
'It's all well and good to talk about crested blazers but it's not the reality for a huge percentage of people,' he said.
Principal of Gorey Community School Michael Finn said that he is in favour of crested uniforms and has introduced a compulsory jacket. However, he said that he has yet to receive a complaint from a parent about this measure. He also said that the school make efforts to minimise costs in other areas such as books.
'We do our best to minimise the number of book changes. Unless the introduction of a new edition makes a huge difference to the course, I urge teachers not to change books,' he said.
The introduction of new editions of schoolbooks by publishers is something that Mr Turner also feels puts additional strain on parents. 'The publishers change five or six pages and then call it a new edition. This needs to be tackled head on. The department or union could come together and make their own textbooks,' he said. 'There are teachers with 35 or 36 years experience who are waiting to retire. Why not use their expertise to develop new maths books for example.'
'The publishers are not in the business of educating, they are in the business of making money, albeit through education.'
While the Faythe National School provide a school book scheme, the size of Gorey Community School - the biggest secondary school in the country - means that Mr Finn is unable to roll out such a provision for the 1,600 secondary students. However, he said that he can assist parents in applying to the Department of Education's book grant scheme.
'Usually the criteria is that a family must be on a medical card but when people contact me and they are experiencing hardship, I won't refuse them,' he said. 'The money doesn't cover everything but it can make a big indent into their expenses.'
Voluntary contributions are asked for in both schools and many others around the country. However, Mr Turner said that they cap the total cost at €80 for an entire family and said that they 'don't chase families down' if they do not pay it. They have also introduced a credit union saving schemes which allows parents to save for additional things such as school trips.
In Gorey, parents will also pay no more than €80, regardless of how many children that they have.
Member of Piercestown National School Parents Association and mother Claire O'Rourke has seen her children go through both the primary and secondary school systems in Wexford. While she said measures surrounding uniforms and book schemes have kept the primary school costs quite low, she said that costs for those going into secondary school are huge.
'You are starting with nothing. You need a school uniform, PE gear, books, everything, You have no coat even,' she said. 'I'm lucky in that I haven't had to make many cuts or sacrifices but I think there are very few parents who would have the money without planning or making sacrifices elsewhere.'
Though she feels she has been lucky, Claire said that what it is evident in the Barnardos reports is that there is huge variation from school to school.