Tuesday 12 December 2017

The high cost of 'free' education

By Esther Hayden


Parents are struggling to bear the huge costs of sending children back to school with prices increasing year on year.

Education in Ireland is supposed to be free, but each year back-to-school costs are rising for families. The cost of putting just one child through school can easily run into tens of thousands of euro. If you have two or more children then you're going to have to dig even deeper to sustain the cost of their educational needs over the long-term.

The latest survey, The Cost of Education in Ireland, published by Zurich Insurance has shown that more than half (52 per cent) of Irish parents find the cost of covering primary school education a strain, with this figure increasing to 68 per cent for secondary school education.

Primary school education costs 80 per cent more than parents expect - averaging at €766 a year while secondary education is averaging at €1,629 a year and the majority of parents find covering costs a financial burden.

This results in 18 per cent of parents of primary school children getting into debt to cover the costs, increasing to 34 per cent of secondary school parents.

The main contributing factors to the heavy financial burden at primary school level included extra curricular activities (€165), lunch (€110), school trips (€87), books (€80) and uniforms (€124).

In secondary school, costs increase greatly and grinds represent a significant portion of average annual costs (€310). After that, the largest costs are school trips (€201), books (€200) and lunch (€183).

Jonathan Daly, head of retail distribution and propositions, Zurich Life Assurance, said that more parents should plan well ahead before their children start school.

'Although schools are cutting down costs in different ways there will always be an annual fee that many parents will struggle with if they're not prepared.

'The last thing we want to see is people borrowing money or using credit cards to fund their children's education.

'This often leads to many parents getting into debt, causing a lot of stress and worry,' he said.

It revealed that the majority of parents of primary (58 per cent) and secondary (78 per cent) school children feel schools don't do enough to keep the costs of going back to school down.

Over half of parents felt that making the switch from books to digital devices would be more cost effective in the context of reducing parents' costs.

A 2016 survey from children's charity Barnardos said its annual school costs survey paints a bleak picture of the primary and secondary education systems.

It shows that parents of first year secondary students are paying almost €800 to send their child to school, while parents of those in primary school are paying up to €400.

The survey found that the average cost of a clothing for a senior infants pupil is €95, while that increases to €105 for a fourth class pupil.

Uniforms for first year students could cost up to €200.

Meanwhile, shoes cost anywhere from €45 to €50 for primary school pupils and €65 for secondary school students.

Parents of primary school parents are paying an average of between €75 to €105 for books, while books for secondary school students could cost up to €290.

Voluntary contributions can cost up to €95 in primary schools, while parents of those in secondary schools are faced with a €150 expense.

Classroom resources are another expenditure that parents must factor in.

With the back to school clothing and footwear allowance standing at €100 for a child under 11 and €200 for an older child, it is clear that it does not fully cover the cost incurred by parents.

However these figures relate to last year and with all the talk of the price of living on the rise it is expected that these costs will increase this year placing even more of a burden on parents who are already under pressure.

Last summer Wexford Credit Union released a survey showing that the cost of sending a child back to school has increased year-on-year since 2012 and now stands at €967 for primary school pupils and at €1,474 for secondary school children. The survey revealed that 81 per cent of parents feel that the cost of sending their kids back to school is a significant financial burden while 31 per cent of parents tend to get themselves into debt to cover this cost.

The survey showed on average primary school parents are spending €145 on uniforms per child and secondary school parents are spending €234 per child. Dunnes Stores (21 per cent) continues to be considered the best value retailer for school uniforms and clothing by parents. Dunnes is followed closely by Marks and Spencer and Tesco. 31 per cent of parents feel pressurised to buy branded school supplies over the cheaper generic goods.

Wexford People

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