Mums at their wits’ ends as the price of educating kids rockets and families are put on the breadline
Stephanie James-Broderick, 35, has hit out at the Government for failing parents who are now forced to cover extortionate school fees.
The young mum who lives in south Dublin with her family says the endless list of school expenses is ‘utter madness’.
Breaking down the exact cost of back-to-school time for her three children, Stephanie revealed: “It’s cost €1703.30 for an eight-year-old in 2nd class, a 10-year-old in 5th class and a 15-year-old in fifth year – and that’s without adding in extras like lunch boxes, beakers and coats.
“The most ridiculous cost are school contribution fees; Amber’s is €160, Alfie’s is €110 and Toby’s is €100 – that doesn’t cover any of their books or stationery.
“And the uniforms, you can’t buy them in Dunnes, Marks and Spencer or Tesco, you have to buy in the school’s uniform store because they are already crested, they cost a bomb.”
Besides uniforms and books, stationery is also coming in at a pretty penny, with a pack of branded Pritt sticks that costs a whopping €13.99 listed as an essential school supply.
“Being asked to provide five branded Pritt sticks and three packets of branded Crayola Twistables for an eight-year-old is crazy when you think of how many of them are in a class. Surely they couldn’t go through that much stuff?
“I totally expect to have to pay towards their education, but this is beyond a joke.”
Speaking to the Government, Stephanie said it’s time they tackled the cost of living crisis head on in the upcoming budget:
“My husband works for himself in plumbing and gas, and I work in a jeweller’s so I’m lucky we are in a good position but they often increase welfare amounts in the budget by small amounts but our taxes remain the same or higher.
“A more realistic look at what families are left with as disposable income after bills is needed.
“I’m sure they would find many are left with less than some social welfare reliant families but those very families on paper would be classed as above the limit for welfare supports.”
The National Parents Council Post Primary (NPCPP) said bills have risen from €1,250 a child last year to €1,500 now because of inflation.
In response, the Government has provided an extra €100 in the Back to School Allowance this year, but Barnardos says it needs to go further. CEO of Barnardos, Suzanne Connolly said that the Government needs to set out plans to provide a “genuinely free” school system for all children.
The children’s charity is now calling for free school books, affordable uniforms, an increase in the back to school allowance and an end to voluntary contributions.
Mum-of-three Natasha Kenny, 29, is among many parents who are finding themselves financially crippled by the rising cost of living but are still under the threshold for state support.
The devoted mum has been refused the Government’s back to school allowance for the first time in three years, now the health worker is worried about how she will make ends meet.
“The stress is just overwhelmingly too much. I often think I would be better leaving my job and living off social welfare but that’s not the example I want to show my kids even though I understand why people do it.”
With three young children in primary school, the Wexford woman revealed: “The Government definitely needs to step up more.
“I understand it’s hard to put measures in place but the means testing needs to be looked at for the back to school allowance especially as the cost of living has increased. How was I entitled to it with one child but not with three?”
In a survey carried out by Barnardos some 69pc of primary school parents and 74pc of secondary school parents are worried about meeting back to school costs this year.
The survey found that the basic cost of sending a fourth class pupil to school was €424 while a first year pupil cost €814.
But for many, the cost is substantially more.
Dee, 42, who works as a private secretary, is a single mum who is struggling to keep her head above water. The mum-of-five says that soaring school costs will push her into debt this September.
“People say Christmas must be a nightmare but it’s not, back to school would cripple you. At least at Christmas time they get what you can afford to give them but with school they have to have their books."
With three children now in secondary school, the devoted mum is living from pay cheque to pay cheque to cover costs.
“One of the kids said to me recently, ‘Don’t worry about it mam, I can look into one of my friend’s books.’
“I won’t send them to school without their books and I will borrow but it just means I will be chasing my tail paying everything out all the way up until Christmas and worrying about rent and food.
“The Government is knocking families into poverty and the choice is do you pay the electric bill or do you eat?”
From the cost of school jackets to the hotly-contested school contributions, the mum revealed: “Last year I sent my kids in with normal jackets and they were taken off them every time they wore them in.
“I refused to buy them the crested jackets because they were €80.
“They don’t do book rentals in the senior cycle and they are changing the curriculum so often that you can’t even get second-hand books. The books are €400 for one child.
“They are not voluntary school contributions anymore and the kids are embarrassed if you don’t pay them because whoever hasn’t paid their €175 yearly fee you don’t get your locker or school journal.”
Despite working to support her family, the secretary said she is being punished for coming off benefits.
“What I am earning now is €50 more than what I would earn on the lone parents. If I was on the lone parents now I would have gotten €1,150 this week.
“I want to work but they are punishing working families into poverty.
“I applied to get the back to school allowance but because I work 19 hours a week I was told I work one hour over the threshold so I don’t meet the requirements.”
Kellie Kearney, 35, who is a mum-of-six says it will cost her €1,200 to get four of her children back to school this September.
The social media manager said: “The children are in Deis schools so they try and take the costs down. We wouldn’t be stuck for money but a lot of people are and I don’t think the contribution is fair.
“The back-to-school allowance really bothers me too. Every child that goes to school should get some sort of contribution. A double children’s allowance in August should be the way to go.
“There is no such thing as free education, there never has been and there never will be.”
The mum and lifestyle influencer has the following budget-savvy tips for parents who are feeling the pinch.
“Last year I went and bought uniforms from a shop that was doing a deal on mix and match pieces for €5. The zips broke, the buttons popped, and they just didn’t last.
“Marks and Spencer has lasted the test of time. Try to buy quality if you can and the uniform will last. Always go for elasticated waistbands because they will grow with the child.
“I also rang around and checked in with the kids’ cousins to see if they were finished with school jumpers and I passed on my eldest’s uniform to someone else.
“Look in groups and community forums for uniforms and books. The schools always have extra uniforms and St Vincent de Paul will always help families in need.”