€800 - The cost of sending your child to secondary school

A new report released by Barnardos also revealed that 1-in-10 parents are forced to go into debt to cover the costs

The annual Barnardos School Costs Survey has revealed the real cost of 'free' education in Ireland.

A new report released by the children's charity, has found that parents pay almost €800 to start a child in secondary school.

It also shows parents are spending €340 to send a senior infants pupil back to school, but that cost rises to €365 for fourth class and €775 for a first year pupil at second level.

For the 11th year in a row, the survey has looked at the average amount of money spent by parents to send their children back to school.

It took into account basic costs such as clothing, footwear, books, resources and voluntary contributions - but did not include costs relating to school bags or sports equipment.

Barnardos have said that responses to their online survey show that parents are fed up with school costs and feel the Irish education system is unfair.

42% of parents said they have to juggle household bills or forego paying bills in order to pay back-to-school expenses.

1-in-10 surveyed said they have been forced to go into debt: borrowing from friends, family, banks, credit unions and even money lenders.

Image via: Barnardos

Cost Break-down

School books and clothing have been shown to be among the highest costs, with voluntary contributions also proving to be quite expensive.

Nearly three-quarters of primary school parents spend between €51 and €150 on school uniforms. There is a wider variance in secondary school uniform costs, with over half spending between €126 and €225.

School books are most expensive at second level - 23% of secondary parents spend nearly €300.

At primary level, 80% of parents spend anywhere between €51 to €150 on school books, and over half of all parents say book costs have gone up since 2015.

Image via: Barnardos

The positive news in the survey shows that average costs for parents with pupils in senior infants has dropped since last year.

The cost of clothing, footwear, and school books are down €5 - while voluntary contributions fell from €100 in 2015 to €85 in 2016.

Classroom resources for senior infants pupils were the only figure to rise, by €5.

Voluntary Contributions

The practice of seeking a donation or ‘voluntary' contribution from parents at the start of the school year has become more and more common over the years, and continues to be a huge source of anger, stress and embarrassment for parents.

This year’s survey showed that two-thirds of primary school parents were asked for a voluntary contribution, with almost 80% of secondary level parents.

Image via: Barnardos

Most schools (88%) ask for the payment annually in advance of the start of the school year; however a small portion of parents are asked to pay biannually, per term or even monthly.

The amount parents pay varies wildly in both primary and secondary school.

Most primary school parents pay under €100, however 55% of secondary school parents pay over €100 with some parents reporting one-off contributions of up to €850.

The overwhelming majority of schools ask for a specific amount, with 88% of primary school parents and 94% of secondary parents saying they are expected to pay a set fee.

One parent told Barnardos: “Voluntary contributions should be exactly that - voluntary. The schools send out repeated letters stating how much each family has to pay, and pressurises parents to pay.

"My son's class was told to bring in hand sanitiser and washcloths as there was no soap available for the year in the boy’s toilet. So where do the voluntary contributions go if not toward basic necessities such as soap?!”

Given those facts Barnardos says it's easy to see how families are getting into debt. The charity wants the next budget to tackle the problem by increasing investment to reduce the burden on all parents.