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The Real Cost of Free Education


Posted by SchoolDays Newshound, on 02/08/2023. The Real Cost of Free EducationTags: Parenting


Barnardos Calls on the Government to: 

1. Extend free schoolbooks to all secondary school children 
2. Ensure all schools have an option of a low-cost uniform   
3. Maintain back to school allowance increase 
4. End voluntary contributions 

The 18th Barnardos’ Back to School Survey has found that parents, particularly lone parents, are concerned about meeting back to school costs this summer. The survey has found that many will find it harder this year due to the ongoing cost of living increases. Parents are finding themselves under considerable financial pressure to meet costs and expressed 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’.

“It is a very difficult and such a stressful time. I lie awake in bed with anxiety thinking how will we meet the uniform needs along with the grocery bill. We both work and we have eaten through our savings since January due to the rise in the cost of living for everything. It’s a very worrying time in our lives with another child joining primary school in 2024 and wondering how will we cope.” - Primary school parent

This year’s survey found: 

  • The basic cost of sending a child to school in 2023 remains substantial across primary and secondary: the average cost of the basics needed for a fourth class pupil is €320, a first year pupil is €972 and a fifth year pupil is €863 

  • There is a direct correlation between the introduction of free schoolbooks for primary school students and the reduction in back to school costs

  • Half of primary (50%) and two-thirds of secondary school parents (66%) stated they are worried about meeting costs this year, (14% primary and 27% secondary said they were very concerned).

  • One third of primary school (35%) and half (50%) of secondary school parents said cost of living increases have made it much more difficult to meet costs with a further two-fifths of parents (41%) saying it had made it slightly more difficult.

  • One in four secondary school parents (24%) said they had to take out a loan or borrow from friends in order to meet back to school costs.

  • One-third (32%) of secondary school parents stated they had to pay over €300 for digital costs for their child.


  • "I will go without essentials to make sure my school financial contribution will be met. Some children are made to feel inferior when they are – very publicly – not given a Journal or locker key.” - Secondary school parent

    Suzanne Connolly, Barnardos CEO, said: “Last year, the Government took the welcome step of introducing free schoolbooks for all primary school children. This year Barnardos is calling on the Government to continue this progress and extend free schoolbooks to all secondary school children to help to provide a genuinely free school system for all children.
    Barnardos believes that no parent should face financial pressure in trying to meet what are essential costs for their children’s education. Parents repeatedly tell us of the need for the government to do more to reduce the struggles they face each summer."
    “Barnardos is calling on the government to take further steps in providing free education by introducing free schoolbooks for all, ensuring all schools allow for low-cost uniforms, ending voluntary contributions and maintaining the recent increase in the back to school clothing and footwear allowance.” 

    "With the high cost of bills, it’s getting harder to try and save for back to school cost.” - Secondary School Parent

    "It’s frightening the worry has already started to how we will manage financially with all the school costs.” - Primary School Parent

    Source: Barnardos
    Read the Back to School 2023 Report

    About Barnardos

    Barnardos’ mission is to deliver services and work with families, communities, and our partners to transform the lives of vulnerable children who are affected by adverse childhood experiences. Because childhood lasts a lifetime www.barnardos.ie .



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