Shiny black shoes, freshly ironed shirts, impeccably clean jumpers and schoolbags that are half the size of the child.

Social media accounts are gearing up to be inundated with those first-day-of-school pictures but behind each shot is hundreds of euros of expense.

Parents sending their little ones off to primary school at the end of this month will spend on average €1,186 per primary child, according to the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU).

That is up €63 from last year, while at secondary school level, the cost is €1,491 per child, up €24 on last year.

These costs include everything from uniforms to books, extracurricular activities, transport and sports gear. School books are still the biggest cost.

Stress and debt

As a result, it’s not surprising that 63% of parents find back to school a financial burden and more worrying nearly one quarter of the 1,000 parents interviewed said they find themselves in debt by an average of €336. One third of parents are frontloading this debt onto the credit card, 3% are turning to moneylenders while 5% of parents are using the services of their local credit union.

Where is the ‘free’ in ‘free education’?

What’s also concerning is that the price of “free education” is at this point a bit of a myth with 71% of schools seeking a voluntary contribution which many parents say is far from voluntary. It varies from school to school but it can be up to €200.

In fact, one parent we interviewed who would not go on record because of fear of retribution from her school informed us that last year, when she said to her child’s school that she could not afford to pay that fee due to the mounting back to school costs, the answer was that they would help her set up a monthly standing order for the remainder of the year. She said it wasn’t exactly the solution she was looking for.

School uniforms – Our readers’ verdict

School uniforms and shoes continue to be one of the biggest costs yet despite reaching out to over 300 parents, only one person would go on record against crested uniforms. It seems crested uniforms are here to stay. This is a snapshot of some of the views of our readers:

Our school has a crested uniform. It definitely adds expense but I know that buying the jumper locally is supporting the local clothes shop instead of a big retailer chain. The only time I go into the clothes shop is for the school uniforms, but I know it’s a good income for them. Without the uniforms, I wonder would they have stayed in business so long and the older people in the town need that shop for their shoes and clothes.

– Shauna, Kilkenny

Our school gives you the option to either get a crested jumper or to iron the crest on to a plain navy jumper. I have two kids attending the school so what I did for the eldest was buy one of each. The crested jumper is nicer and better quality so I put that on him for the school photos and on cold days in the winter. But on a normal autumn or spring day, I put the plain navy jumper on him. My second child is now in school and the crested jumper is still in good nick so I only had to buy a second plain jumper for her. The generic jumper didn’t wash well at all and ended up in the bin at the end of the year.

– Karina, Cork

Our school doesn’t insist on a crested uniform. When they started school, I did buy the crested jumper for the first two years but I have stopped buying them. My young lad is growing so much, the jumper doesn’t last the school year. I have to buy him a second and I get two jumpers in Dunnes for the same price as one crested jumper. I think its important for schools to give parents the option. We have been hit badly financially by COVID and I’m on the PUP so while other years, I could afford it, this year, I just can’t.

– Tara, Drogheda

We also have the option to have a crested uniform or a non-crested uniform but I feel a lot of pressure to get the crested jumper. I feel like it’s nearly a status thing; that if you didn’t have a crested jumper, your parents couldn’t afford it. I know it sounds petty and nobody talks about it but it’s true.

– Adam, Donegal

I think school uniforms are fantastic as they simplify life for many families and give children a more even playing field but I don’t agree with the huge expense that goes with them. I do think it’s nice for schools to have their individual identity in terms of colours and a crest but I think there should be low-cost options for crested jumpers, and trousers and T-shirt’s should be mainstream and easy to buy at a low cost.

– Gemma, Sligo

Back to School Clothing & Footwear Allowance

The Back to School Clothing & Footwear Allowance provides a once-off payment to eligible families towards the cost of school clothing and footwear. The allowance paid for each eligible child aged four to 11 years on or before 30 September 2021 is €150 while an allowance of €275 is paid for each eligible child aged 12 to 22 years on or before 30 September 2021. Students aged between 18 to 22 years must be returning to full-time second-level education in a recognised school or college in the autumn of 2021 to retain an entitlement to payment.

Plan for 2022

If you’re really feeling the pinch on the Back to School costs, start thinking about next year now. Saving €5 per child every week between now and next August will mean you’ll have €260 to deal with the back to school costs in August 2022.