Editor's Viewpoint: Paying the price for children's education
The school holidays are not long under way but already many parents will be dreading the new term and the cost of outfitting their children. And it doesn't stop there. With school budgets under increasing pressure many are asking parents to foot the bill for items like stationery or voluntary contributions.
One uniform supplier approached by this newspaper put the cost of outfitting a child at more than £175. For those families on low income and with more than one child at secondary school, the bill can quickly become very daunting.
Around a third of families say they get into debt meeting the cost of school uniforms, some even turning to doorstep lenders to help make ends meet. That, of course, is only compounding the problem as these lenders charge exorbitant interest rates, driving the families further into debt for longer periods.
The idea behind school uniforms is a good one in theory, bringing uniformity to what the pupils wear and disguising any obvious wealth discrepancy between them.
But expensive blazers and high cost sports gear are two of the most complained about items in the uniform. The good news is that the costs have fallen slightly this year but still parents believe schools could do more.
One initiative which seems to have taken off in schools and among church organisations in particular is the recycling of unwanted uniforms. Given that children can grow at an alarming rate the uniforms, or part of them, can quickly become too small and instead of being discarded can be bought for a fraction of the original price. The acceptability of recycling as a term - as opposed to calling them hand-me-downs - means that many people are less embarrassed at availing of the initiative.
One area of expenditure that parents are cutting back on noticeably is school trips. While they are educational as well as fun, the cost is just stretching some families' finances too far and have to be foregone.
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While it is easy to suggest that schools should do more to help hard-pressed families, particularly those children from lower income households who have managed to gain entry to some of the more elite schools, it should be noted that even education purse strings are being severely tightened at present and many are hoping for handouts from parents rather than being able to assist families in need.