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Free book scheme helps keep expenses down but parents still worried – The Irish Times

More than two-thirds of secondary school parents and half of parents with children in primary school are worried about covering back-to-school costs this year, a survey from children’s charity Barnardos shows.

The 18th annual school costs survey from the charity found that while the spending among parents of younger children is set to fall as a result of the roll-out of a free book scheme for primary schools, most parents remain concerned about back-to-school cost as the cost-of-living crisis continues.

It noted that lone parents in particular were worried about making ends meet this summer with many under considerable financial pressure to meet costs and expressing “frustration and exasperation with being compelled to pay high uniform costs, large sums for digital tools and increased voluntary contribution fees, which in reality are not really ‘voluntary’”.

The survey showed a wide range of back-to-school costs for students going into different classes.

The costs for a pupil in fourth class in primary school averaged €320 compared with €424 last year – with the decline attributed to the introduction of a free book scheme for primary schoolchildren from the start of the new school term.

The costs for a first-year student in secondary school were put at €972 compared with €814 last year while a student coming to the end of second level is likely to cost an average of €863 compared with about €722 last year.

According to the children’s charity, there is a “direct correlation between the introduction of free schoolbooks for primary school students and the reduction in back-to-school costs” and it called on the scheme to be widened to include all students.

Over one-third of primary school parents and one in two secondary school parents said cost-of-living increases had made it much more difficult to meet costs this year with a further 41 per cent saying it had made it slightly more difficult.

One in four secondary school parents said they had to take out a loan or borrow from friends in order to meet back-to-school costs with 32 per cent of this cohort saying they had to pay more than €300 for digital costs for their child.

“Last year, the Government took the welcome step of introducing free schoolbooks for all primary schoolchildren,” said Barnardos chief executive Suzanne Connolly. “This year [we are] calling on the Government to continue this progress and extend free schoolbooks to all secondary schoolchildren to help to provide a genuinely free school system for all children.”

She said “no parent should face financial pressure in trying to meet what are essential costs for their children’s education” and pointed out how parents “repeatedly tell us of the need for government to do more to reduce the struggles they face each summer”.

In addition to free schoolbooks for all, she said all schools should “allow for low-cost uniforms [as well as] ending voluntary contributions, and maintaining the recent increase in the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance”.

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