Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, General Election candidate Pauline Tully and Cllr Paddy McDonald with Sinn Féin's policy document on cutting back to school costs.

Back to School costs creep towards €1,400 a child

Sinn Féin has pledged to make free education a reality. The statement was made by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin in Cavan last week when he was joined by his party’s Cavan based general election candidate Pauline Tully and Cllr Paddy McDonald.

It comes as a recent credit union survey has put the average cost of sending a child to school for a year at between €950 and €1,400 a child (see details below).
Deputy Ó Caoláin outlined the key objectives that Sinn Féin has committed to in its determination to provide quality free education for all attending primary and secondary schools across the State.
He stated that, while his party is campaigning to encourage government to adopt the Sinn Féin measures to end crippling back to school costs endured by parents, “the surest way to achieve quality free education for all children is by voting Sinn Féin at the next general election and in sufficient numbers to give us a mandate to enter Government.”
Deputy Ó Caoláin detailed: “We are pressing for an additional ‘back to school’ payment of €140 payable for every school going child and young person every July. School books should be provided free across the board and school uniforms must be affordable. We also need to reform and significantly increase funding of the school transport scheme.”
Pauline Tully, who is a teacher at Breifne College in Cavan Town, added that the current reliance on the so called ‘voluntary contributions’ needs to be addressed.
“Proper school funding, at all levels, through appropriate capitation grants must be committed to by all parties. For our part, we in Sinn Féin will drive these changes given the opportunity to play our part in Government. We have the talented people and we have the policies. It’s time that people stood together and achieved real reform of our education system. The annual back to school burden must be taken from the shoulders of struggling parents,” she stated.


School costs breakdown

A recent survey by the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU), meanwhile, has estimated that parents are spending, on average, close to €1,400 to get a second level child back to school and almost €950 for a primary pupil.

Some 78% of parents are finding the Back to School spend a financial burden, an 11% increase on last year, according to the result of a recent survey.

The Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) found that one third of parents are, meanwhile, forced to deny their children certain school items because they can no longer afford them.
The findings were revealed in a national survey of 882 parents of school children carried out by independent market research company, iReach Insights in June 2019.
It's estimated that parents are now spending an average of €1,399 to get a secondary school child back to school – up €20 on last year; while at primary school level, parents have reduced spending, with costs down by €50 on average to €949 per child.
Parents getting children ready for secondary school are spending €1,399 per child. This is up €20 on the €1,379 being spent last year.
The ICLU say, understandably, parents of secondary school children are finding costs a struggle. Eight in ten (83%) say the back to school spend is a financial burden compared with 77% of parents at primary level.
While the numbers in debt over back to school costs remains steady at over a third (36%), parents appear to be more prudent with the debt they are running up. The average debt this year is €322 compared with €405 in 2018, a reduction of €83.
Examining this in more detail, parents of primary school children say their average back to school related debt is €274, down from €367 in 2018. At second level, parents say their average debt is €357, down from €443 last year.

Books most expensive

The most expensive item at second level was again books, coming in at €220 compared with €200 last year. Uniforms/clothing was next on the list at €200, up from €179 last year. School trips are set to cost parents €190 this year, compared with €159 last year.
At primary school level, parents appear to be cutting back on school lunches, with the spend falling from €142 last year to €102 this year. After-school care has also seen a drop from €140 to €117. Extra-curricular activities continue to be the biggest spend at €159 - up from €153 in 2018.
Uniforms/clothing is coming in as the second most expensive item at €133, up from €128 last year. This is followed by books at €123 – up just €1 on last year.
Worryingly, the ICLU state, of those parents surveyed and in debt, almost a quarter (24%) say they have turned to a moneylender.
While this figure is alarming, it is a three per cent drop since last year.
The average amount borrowed has also fallen slightly from €450 last year, to €439 this year.
Costs continue to be parents’ main concern at back to school time.
Half of parents say it’s their biggest worry, up 4% on last year. One in three say they will be forced to deny their children certain additional school items simply because they can’t afford them. This is up from 31% on 2018.
Of that figure, 68% will cut out extracurricular activities; 30% won’t spend on school trips; 29% say new gym gear will get the cut; while for 22%, new shoes will be off the school list.
This last item however is down considerably from the 42% in 2018.
Welcoming the recent publication of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills report on their examination of school costs, Paul Bailey, ILCU Head of Communications said: “We are calling on the Government to take more affirmative action to tackle the rising costs of sending children back to school. The recommendations outlined in the Joint Committee on Education and Skill’s report, if taken on board, will go a long way to easing this annual burden on parents.”
In general, parents say the biggest sacrifice they make in order to cover back to school costs is family holidays.
Some 43% said they would reduce spending on a holiday, compared with 34% last year; 31% said they would cut spending on summer activities for the kids, similar to 30% last year; and eight per cent said they would cut spending on food for the family, down from 15% last year.
Commenting on these findings, Mr Bailey added: “We are very encouraged to see that overall, the numbers approaching moneylenders has fallen by 1% since last year (3% down from 4%). The research also showed that those using credit cards to cover the Back to School spend has decreased by 5% (falling from 18% to 13%).
We see this as a very positive response to the credit union message that they are an affordable, convenient and ethical alternative to credit cards and moneylenders. We would encourage all parents in need of financial assistance to contact their local credit union and forego moneylenders and credit cards completely.”