Last Sunday I heard my small smaller daughter crying as she ran in the back door.

While the howls of a mishap are a regular occurrence, particularly during the summer, this was elevated and distinctly different to the norm.

She thrust her little hand towards me and there it was, sticking out, a great big stinger!

Now in general – not being known for my sympathetic nature – I would normally have ushered her back out the door with a “you are grand, run it under the tap and get an ice-pack”, but not that day.

My new-found compassion was admittedly down to my own throbbing leg, which had been stung only an hour previously while out walking.

I am not sure what insect caused the pain but I can tell you that I completely empathised with the poor child.

The pain was intense. In general, we are much more likely to understand how something is affecting others if we experience it ourselves.

When I read Ciara’s consumer article this week (P12-13) on “Back to school costs”, I could completely empathise with the parents who responded to her queries.

Comments made about contribution prompted me to do a review of our own costs and ask my friends for a comparison.

The children finished school on Friday 29 May. On May 31, we received an e-mail from the school with a link to the online payment system for the 2022/2023 school year.

The link contained a request framed “you have the following contribution requests from your school”.

In our case, that is €50 for the younger child and €70 for the older one. These fees are for “photocopying and art combined, book rental (although 90% of the books are purchased) and a homework journal”.

While the word voluntary did not appear, it was possible to change the amount.

However, this is just pushing the can down the road as another e-mail read that, as it was the final month of school they “need to have all fees paid”.

As I trawled through the e-mails looking for last year’s contribution (it was €114), I noticed the costs of all the other little bits over the course of the year, school tours, swimming lessons, buses and annuals.

A quick survey of my friends’ experiences further revealed the inconsistency between schools in relation to the charges and how the charges are even higher at secondary level.

not sophisticated extras to enhance learning, but rather basic necessities required to effectively deliver the curriculum

The 2022 budget submission from the Irish National Teachers Organisation stated:“Parents and local communities are subsidising primary schools to the tune of €46m a year to cover basic costs such as energy and insurance costs.”

Importantly, they point out that these are “not sophisticated extras to enhance learning, but rather basic necessities required to effectively deliver the curriculum”.

The submission also outlines how the education is paid for: “Primary schools receive a capitation grant of €1 per pupil per school day to cover their running costs. Second-level schools receive almost double that amount.”

It was 10 September 1966 when the Fianna Fáil Minister for Education of the day, Donogh O’Malley, famously made an unauthorised speech announcing plans for free second-level education in Ireland.

This was introduced a year later and it changed the course of our country. That moment was the definitive “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” in the history of our State.

With the cost of living increasing, truly free would be truly welcome if perhaps unrealistic?