Friday 24 January 2020

'Free' education nightmare

St Vincent de Paul say parents at wits' end

Annette Beckett from St Vincent De Paul
Annette Beckett from St Vincent De Paul

David Looby

Working Wexford parents at their wits' end are being urged to contact St Vincent de Paul (SVdP) for financial assistance.

Figures released by Barnardos show that parents are spending thousands of euros paying for everything from school uniforms to tablets and school contribution fees.

Wexford SVdP President Annette Beckett said County Wexford parents are paying over one thousand euros to send a child to secondary school. This includes school bus transport costs, books, uniforms, school contribution fees etc.

Annette said a problem arose this year when some schools sought book rental scheme payments before the end of June.

She said: 'Parents hadn't been paid their Children's Allowance or received their Back to School grant. The average cost was €60 per child so parents with a few children found it very difficult. It was a bit of a shock.'

Annette said the biggest expense is when a child moves from 6th Class into 1st Year. Some secondary schools in Wexford require students to use ipads and Annette said the credit union has assisted parents in paying for these.

On top of such costs, parents have a long list of other expenses, including workbooks, particular school shoe brands and sports equipment.

Annette said students should be able to use secondhand books and not have to buy updated versions of the previous year's editions. 'Sometimes only a page or a few pages are different.'

She said only for the Vincent's shop the Wexford conference would be in a bad situation financially with the hundreds of people it helps.

Annette urged working parents who are struggling with Back to School costs to contact the SVdP. 'I wish we had more people who are working coming to us. Maybe they are embarrassed and they don't realise they can come in. They can just pick up the phone and call us at the Wexford office on 053 9143568. We will direct you to the conference in your area. We have 14 conferences in County Wexford from Kilmuckridge to Rosslare Harbour to Clongeen and everywhere in between.'

She stressed that Wexford SVdP can't perform miracles but will do its best to help people. 'If we can ease the pressure even a little bit we will'

New Ross SVdP Secretary Nicholas Foley said August is a stressful month for parents, adding that the price of books is 'horrendous'. Criticising the way school books are updated every year, Nicholas said: 'It's a fact of life and the way we do things in this country. If the books were hand-me-downs we could keep costs under control. They are changing a page and that's enough to change the book. It's totally wrong and will stay this way until the Department of Education put their foot down. It's purely a business enterprise. When I was in school we used hand-me-down books and now they have to use workbooks as well.'

He said if not for the great support New Ross SvdP gets the people most in need would be to supported in the way they are today.

He reminded people who need assistance with back to school costs to contact New Ross SVdP as the organisation doesn't go looking for people who availed of their support in the past.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, a volunteer with Enniscorthy SVdP, said one of the biggest problems is the cost of uniforms.

Elizabeth said: 'One of the schools have changed the crest this year on the jumpers. In some schools they all have to have special jackets and shoes, which can cost €75. I don't know why they have to have all these. I think the time has come for parents to start sewing on crests again as jumpers can cost €56.'

She said Enniscorthy SVdP has been fielding calls since the end of July from parents seeking assistance with back to school costs. 'Some people are panicking. The back to school allowance hasn't arrived. We are definitely busier than in previous years.'

The Enniscorthy branch covers a wide catchment area stretching from Rathnure in the west, to Oylegate in the east, and from Davidstown in the south, to Oylegate in north central Wexford.

Liz said parents from across the district have been shocked by how much they are spending on food over the summer months.

'Many schools provide free breakfast and lunches so they are finding it expensive now. I think parents will spend more in the next three weeks than they spent all summer. They are panicking and thinking they didn't get enough for their kids.'

She said bus fees run into the hundreds per child, adding that parents are faced with all kinds of expenses, when many items can be bought cheaply at supermarkets.

Many hard pressed parents are also turning to local credit unions for help meeting the costs, while the Barnardos' Annual School Costs survey found that parents are being forced into debt in order to provide the basics for their children's education. The organisation is calling on all politicians to tackle the burden of school costs and make the provision of free education a political priority.

The basic cost of sending a child to school increased in 2018 across primary and secondary: the average cost of the basics needed for a senior infants pupil is €360; a fourth class pupil is €380 and a first year pupil is €765. The survey found that more parents are going into debt: 11 per cent of primary school parents and 21 per cent of secondary school parents are forced to borrow money to cover school costs; the majority of the remaining either delay payment of other bills or take money out of savings.

Wexford People

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