The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) took almost 300 calls every day last week from parents struggling with back-to-school costs. Calls for help with school costs are up 10% compared to previous years.
SVP says the level of demand underlines the need for much greater investment in the education system to ensure that all children and young people can access and participate in education on an equal footing.
The charity says many of the calls received relate to requests for financial help with parental contributions, schoolbooks, digital equipment, and help with the cost of school uniforms.
This pressure is coming at a time when many families are struggling with rising utility costs.
Members of SVP are particularly concerned about the number of calls they are receiving from worried parents in relation to the cost of iPads and tablets.
Many of these devices cost between €600 and €800 and are impossible for struggling families to afford.
When schools had to make the switch to online learning during school closures, SVP provided significant support to low-income families struggling with the cost of digital devices and internet costs.
Rose McGowan, SVP National President, said; “With schools on track to reopen next week, children and young people can look forward to meeting up with their friends and resuming some normality after a tough eighteen months.
"Unfortunately, however, even in normal times school can be a daily struggle for students from low-income families, especially if they don’t have everything they need to learn or if they feel different from their peers.
"For struggling parents, the preparation for the new school year is a huge source of stress, in particular the anxiety associated with the prospect of requests for contributions or other expenses for extra-curricular activities.”
Marcella Stakem, SVP Research and Policy Officer added; “We are keenly aware that the inequalities that existed before the pandemic in the education system remain and, in many cases, have worsened.
"Returning to normal should not be what we aspire to for children and young people – they deserve so much better. We need to ensure that we have a properly funded and inclusive education system, that is genuinely free for everyone.
“In this year’s pre-budget submission, we are asking Government to prioritise investment in measures to address educational disadvantage and rising school costs.
"Budget 2022 must lay the foundations for everyone to reach their potential and it must leave our education system in a better place than the way we found it before Covid-19,” said Ms Stakem.
Based on SVP’s work in communities the charity sees how teachers and principals work hard to reduce the impact of poverty on children’s experiences at school.
This year in particular SVP is asking schools to be extra cognisant of the needs of low-income students and families at a time when many parents are out of work and on inadequate or reduced incomes.
Some of the poverty proofing strategies schools employ include spreading the cost of in-school activities over the course of the school year, offering alternatives for low-income families including waivers and payment plans,
being mindful of uniform breaches that may be linked to poverty and adopting cost cutting measures such as the use of sew on uniform crests and a ban on non-reusable workbooks.