Parents will have to pay at least €340 for each child in primary education and almost €800 for secondary students in school costs this year, according to a charity.

Barnardo’s has called on the government to reduce the financial burden that families face before the start of the new term, and said that the expense could be elimin

Parents pay at least €340 for each child in primary school, Barnardo’s said

ated at an annual cost to the state of €230 million.

The organisation’s eleventh annual survey found that parents across the country spent hundreds of euros every year putting each of their children through a “free” education system.

The research, involving 1,475 parents, showed that those with a senior infant will spend €340, including a voluntary contribution of €85. Families with a child in fourth class will need to spend €395; the cost of sending a first year to secondary school is €775.

The back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance entitles parents on welfare support to €100 for primary school children and €200 for secondary.

Barnardo’s said that two in five parents failed to pay household bills or had to cut back on other expenses to save for school costs. It added that a tenth had to go in to debt and another tenth dipped into savings.

June Tinsley, head of advocacy at Barnardo’s, said yesterday: “It never ceases to surprise me the depth of anger and frustration parents feel with these costs, and the injustice that all schools have to follow the same curriculum and yet schools demand different items be purchased in order to meet that curriculum.”

For primary school children, the greatest costs for parents are associated with clothing. Clothing and footwear for a senior infant is expected to cost €140; the same expenses for a fourth- class pupil are €155. School books for senior infants are estimated to cost €75 and €105 for fourth- class children.

“We always imagine it’s the children dreading back-to-school time the most, but year after year it’s clear to Barnardo’s that parents are the ones suffering,” Fergus Finlay, its chief executive, said. “For the eleventh year in a row parents told us the lack of consistency in education costs is symptomatic of an education system which has inequality and unfairness at its core.”

Once a child reaches secondary school, book costs become the greatest expense, with parents of a first-year pupil expected to pay €290. Families also face costs in relation to classroom resources and voluntary contributions of €125 for a senior infant and €220 for a first-year pupil.

The survey found that 87 per cent of primary schools and 98 per cent of secondary schools require a uniform, but a plain, non-crested uniform can be bought for only 16 per cent of primary pupils and 2 per cent of secondary students.

Barnardo’s said that the Department of Education should cover the expenses. “Parents are at the end of their tether trying to grapple with these costs,” Ms Tinsley said. “However, it’s not fair to expect schools to shoulder the burden either. They have faced cut after cut in recent years and many are struggling to make ends meet.”

She said parents expressed anger because they believed that it was up to the Department of Education to ensure appropriate funding for schools. “That is not being fulfilled and, as a result, there’s an expectation that parents will fill that gap,” she added.

Mr Finlay said that €103 million would cover the cost of sending children to primary school for all parents each year; the figure for secondary students would be €126.9 million.

“This minimal investment would ensure a level playing field for all primary school pupils and substantially reduce the financial burden on parents,” he said. “It is the government’s responsibility to adequately fund education — not parents.”

The Department of Education said that the start of the school year could be a stressful time for parents, and schools should be sensitive to the financial pressures that families face. “It is important to recognise that the department has to live within the limited resources that are provided by the taxpayer,” a spokeswoman said. “The call by Barnardo’s for additional funding totalling several hundreds of millions for back-to-school costs must be seen in this context.”