Counting the cost of “free” EducationThe lifetime cost of putting a child through school exceeds €20,000 and when college is included the total rises to almost €50,000.

According to new research on the cost of education in Ireland, parents pay an average of €2,214 per annum in back-to-school costs for secondary school children and €1,305 for those in primary school.

Crested uniforms, expensive books, “voluntary” contributions, general school supplies, and most recently, laptops and tablets have parents counting the cost of “free” education. In the survey, uniforms were found to be the most expensive items, with parents of primary school children spending €235 on average per child on uniforms and secondary school parents spending almost €100 more. Books were the second most expensive item on the school shopping list. Primary school parents are expected to shell out €176 on books with secondary school parents an additional €50 more.

With 14% of primary school parents reporting their child needed a tablet or laptop for school and 32% of secondary school parents reporting the same it is no surprise that  the total cost of back-to-school expenses has risen by €133 compared with last year.

According to an annual survey from the Irish League of Credit Unions (ICLU), 63% of parents feel that back-to-school time is a huge financial burden and a quarter of those surveyed are likely to get into debt in order to cover these costs. With the average parent finding themselves €336 in debt on account of these costs.

While successive governments have denounced exorbitant school costs, little reform has happened. And those reforms that have been enacted have had little effect. For instance, the 2018 Admissions Act which states that “A board shall not charge fees, or seek payments or contributions (howsoever described) as a condition of an application for admission of a student to a school or the admission or continued enrolment of a student in the school,” has not stopped schools from seeking “voluntary contributions. With the latest figures suggesting that 71% of schools are still seeking a “voluntary contribution”.

Worse still is the fact that little exists by way of financial restitution for parents of school children. While some benefits and supports do exist, Ireland lingers behind many of our European counterparts when it comes to covering back-to-school cost. And with government members still counting the cost of the fiscal response to COVID-19 the possibility of substantial allowances in the near future looks highly unlikely.

By Morgan Campbell of Paycheck Plus.