“Free Education? I don’t think so”

Next month Ann O’Connor of Springlawn, Longford, will send her youngest child to secondary school and in doing so will incur an expense of just under €900.

Next month Ann O’Connor of Springlawn, Longford, will send her youngest child to secondary school and in doing so will incur an expense of just under €900.

“This is a stressful time for both parents and children alike. As a lone parent, I receive €223 weekly. I got the Back to School Allowance yesterday and that was €305, which is great but won’t help me fully,” said Ann.

Working through Ann’s figures and taking into account that she has shopped around for cheaper alternatives where possible, Ann faces a bill of close to €900 over the next two weeks. This leaves her with a shortfall of approximately €600 and she’s not alone.

According to Barnardos Annual Cost Survey, their organisation estimates the average cost of sending a child to secondary school would be in the region of €805. This does not, however, take into account copies, pens, bags, transport costs or gym equipment.

“Six books alone cost €170 and you can’t get them second hand. That’s not even half the books that are needed. The list has 13 to 14 books on it and these have to be purchased by September,” said Ann. “Then there’s copies, uniforms and a €50 fee for a locker and photocopying as well as a €50 fee for rental of a further four or five books.”

For Ann the biggest cost is books and she feels that it would help if schools could establish a book rental scheme.

“From what I’ve learned schools do want to rent books. I don’t think they are out there wanting to put extra expense on parents but there isn’t the funding there (for rental schemes). I always had the rental scheme at national school for books so this is a huge change as I never had to buy text books before; workbooks yes, but not text books,” she said.

Shopping around for the uniform, Ann and her family chose department stores to purchase items such as trousers. However, on other items they simply had no choice but to go for the higher priced clothing.

“Some items like shoes I got for €60. There is a shop recommended by the school but that sells shoes for €110. Jumpers with crests cost between €35 and €40 and of course, you need two of those,” said Ann.

In addition to the uniform Ann’s child must also be kitted out with school crested gym kits. These have been pre-ordered and will be paid for in September.

“Also, the jackets have to be purchased for €65. I’ve already paid a deposit of €25 when they took the measurements. Then you have to look at things like runners,” said Ann.

Looking forward to September, Ann must face the harsh reality that there will be straitened weeks ahead of her.

“I go to the Credit Union and I can see that in September I’ll be putting off paying other bills just to make sure that my child can go to school with everything that she needs,” she said. “Free Education, I don’t think so.”