Average amount spent on pupils is over £1k
More than a third of parents in Northern Ireland are getting into debt to cope with the financial burden of getting children back to school after the summer break.
The shocking statistic was revealed in a new report from the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU), which shows that parents are spending a staggering average of £1,034 to kit out their kids for post-primary school.
Spending for a primary school child is an average of £886, with two in three parents believing that schools do not do enough to help keep costs down.
The figures were revealed just two weeks after Stormont’s Education Committee was told that uniform cost was becoming a significant factor for many parents when choosing a school for a child.
MLAs heard the estimated cost of grammar school uniforms was 25% more expensive than uniforms for non-grammar schools, and while the Department of Education has issued guidance to schools, it has been urged to follow the Welsh Assembly example and make guidance statutory, meaning all schools have to make reasonable attempts to keep the cost of uniforms as low as possible.
The latest wide-ranging ILCU survey shows an average family debt of £256, an increase of £34 from last year. Some 14% take on debts over of £500, which is an increase of 5% from 2020.
In the past three years there has been an increase of £64 in the average debt.
The overall spend on school items is down slightly for both primary and secondary schools. The cost of sending a child to primary school this September is coming in at £866, down £5 from last year, while for secondary school parents the average spend is £1,034, down £42 on last year.
The most expensive item this year for both primary and secondary schools was uniforms at £126 for primary, a decrease of £5 from 2020 and £181 for secondary, an increase of £4. Spending on shoes has increased for primary schools to £74 (up £11 from 2020).
Spending on gym gear/sports equipment has increased for secondary pupils (£113, up £14 from 2020).
Cutting back on holidays is still one of the biggest sacrifices that 33% of families make to cover back to school costs, an increase of 10% from 23% last year. Significantly, 39% are forced to deny their child/children school trips because they cannot afford them, an increase of 9% from last year. And 33% of parents say they will have to deny their children new gym gear, also an increase of 7% from 2020.
Funding back-to-school continues to be a challenge for parents with 62% saying that covering the cost is a financial burden, an increase of 8% from last year.
This year’s survey also revealed that 60% of parents shop online for school supplies in search of better deals.
Covid-19 has had a profound effect on households, with 68% of those surveyed reporting that the mental health of their household has been affected and 58% believing that their children’s wellbeing has been affected, a significant increase of 31% compared to last year.
The financial impact of home-schooling increased in 2021, with 22% saying they had additional costs due to lockdown. More than half of parents (52%) felt the cost of feeding children at home affected them, more than double the 25% of last year. Nearly a third (32%) of parents reported that expenditure on laptops/tablets to support home-schooling has had hit their household finances compared to 7% in 2020.
As a result of school closures at the start of the year, 46% of parents in Northern Ireland think that a focus should be put on children’s mental health when they return to school in September. Some 36% believe that the school calendar should be adjusted to accommodate for missed time during the school year.
Meanwhile, 64% of parents said vaccinations should be offered to secondary school students, with 42% in also wanting to see vaccinations offered to primary school children.
Almost two in three parents believe that schools don’t do enough to help keep the costs of going back to school down, an increase of 10% from last year.