Thursday, August 26, 2021

An anti-poverty charity took almost 300 calls every day last week from parents struggling with back-to-school costs, with calls on the issue up 10 per cent compared to previous years.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) said the level of demand underlines the need for much greater investment in the education system.

The charity said many of the calls received relate to requests for financial help with parental contributions, schoolbooks, digital equipment and help with the cost of school uniforms.

It comes as the latest Irish League of Credit Unions survey on back-to-school costs showed the overall spend on school items is up for both primary and secondary schools.

The cost of sending a child to primary school this year is €1,186, up €63 on last year. Parents of secondary school children can expect to pay an average of €1,491, up from €1,467 last year.

School books once again top the list this year as the most expensive item for parents of secondary school children at €211, up from €196 last year.

Extracurricular activities are the top cost for primary school parents at €178, up from €167 last year. Spending on gym gear/sports equipment has increased for both primary school (€77, up €15 from 2020) and secondary school (€121, up €11 from 2020).

Significantly, 43 per cent of parents said they will have to deny their children new gym gear, a sharp increase of 16 per cent from 2020. Parents also reported that 71 per cent of schools are still seeking so called “voluntary contributions”.

This pressure is coming at a time when many families are struggling with rising utility costs.

iPads and tablets

Members of SVP are particularly concerned about the number of calls they are receiving from worried parents in relation to the cost of iPads and tablets.

Many of these devices cost between €600 and €800 and are impossible for struggling families to afford.

Rose McGowan, SVP national president, said: “With schools on track to reopen next week, children and young people can look forward to meeting up with their friends and resuming some normality after a tough eighteen months.

“Unfortunately, however, even in normal times school can be a daily struggle for students from low-income families, especially if they don’t have everything they need to learn or if they feel different from their peers.

“For struggling parents, the preparation for the new school year is a huge source of stress, in particular the anxiety associated with the prospect of requests for contributions or other expenses for extra-curricular activities.”

Marcella Stakem, SVP research and policy officer added: “We are keenly aware that the inequalities that existed before the pandemic in the education system remain and, in many cases, have worsened.

“Returning to normal should not be what we aspire to for children and young people – they deserve so much better. We need to ensure that we have a properly funded and inclusive education system, that is genuinely free for everyone.

“In this year’s pre-budget submission, we are asking Government to prioritise investment in measures to address educational disadvantage and rising school costs.

“Budget 2022 must lay the foundations for everyone to reach their potential and it must leave our education system in a better place than the way we found it before Covid-19,” said Ms Stakem.

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