Barnardos School Costs Survey 2018: 2,200 Parents Say Enough is Enough

01 Aug 2018 in Press Releases, Advocacy, Featured, Schools, Parenting

Children have a right to genuinely free education, and Ireland can easily afford it

Barnardos’ Annual School Costs Survey has found parents continue to subsidise an underfunded education system which claims to offer free education, with an increasing number of parents forced into debt in order to provide the basics for their children’s education. Barnardos is calling on all politicians to finally tackle the burden of school costs and make the provision of free education a political priority.

Fergus Finlay, Barnardos CEO, said: “This year over 2,200 parents took the Barnardos’ School Costs Survey. We’ve heard from parents across the country that they are tired of having to pay for so called ‘free education’. They are fed-up being forced to amass debt or fall behind on essential bills year after year in order to cover the most basic costs of their children’s education.

This year’s survey found:

  • The basic cost of sending a child to school increased in 2018 across primary and secondary: the average cost of the basics needed for a senior infants pupil is €360; a fourth class pupil is €380 and a first year pupil is €765
  • More parents are going into debt: 11% of primary school parents and 21% of secondary school parents are forced to borrow money to cover school costs; the majority of the remaining either delay payment of other bills or take money out of savings
  • 53% of primary school parents and 54% of secondary school parents reported an increase in the cost of school books this year
  • The number of parents being asked to pay a voluntary contribution has increased since last year: 67% of primary school parents have been asked for a voluntary contribution (up 11% on last year); 71% of secondary school parents have been asked to pay a contribution (up 2% on last year)”

Schooling is very expensive in Ireland and with school fees, book costs and uniforms I worry for the future - free education is not the case. I am already worrying about how I will pay everything this year for my four children.” - Parent, Barnardos School Costs Survey 2018

June Tinsley, Barnardos Head of Advocacy added, “All parents, regardless of income, find the back to school period places a strain on their finances and causes significant stress. This experience is magnified for families who are already struggling financially or have additional family challenges. By refusing to commit the relatively small amount of money required to fully fund the education system, the Government are placing families under significant stress and are running the risk of leaving the most vulnerable children without the basics they need to learn. Investing in education not only benefits children, but offers huge rewards for the future of our society. It is time for the Government to fulfil their constitutional responsibility to provide truly free education.  We’re calling on all politicians to make free education a political priority and end this fallacy once and for all.”


Notes to editors:

Snapshot of Basic School Costs 2018

Average costs

Senior Infants pupil

4th Class pupil

1st Year Pupil











School Books





Classroom resources





Voluntary contribution








Total * in 2017




Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance





Barnardos’ Key Recommendations

  • Uphold a child’s constitutional right to free primary education by committing in Budget 2019 to invest an extra €103.2 million annually to make it reality for all children, this can be phased in over a three year period beginning with investing the €20 million to provide free school books for all.
  • Commit to investing €126.9 million annually to make secondary education free for all children once free primary education has been achieved.
  • Ensure schools’ Board of Managements’ adherence to the Department of Education circular re school uniform policy to take tangible measures to reduce the costs on parents.
  • Synchronise the income thresholds so all family types and all those in receipt of Working Family Payment are eligible for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.


Analysis, Results and Action


Quotes from parents

This year we have gone hungry, foregone all days out and have left bills unpaid to put our children back to school.”

“We fundraise throughout the year for the school. We're asked for voluntary contributions. This is supposed to be free education. The capitation grant only covers 70% of the basic running costs of our school. This is absolutely ridiculous - how are schools supposed to cope? Our principal is constantly begging for money. A lot of it is to pay bills. Something here doesn't add up. Time for the Government to be held accountable and stop finding excuses. All it takes is the will to make it happen.”

Schooling is very expensive in Ireland and with school fees, book costs and uniforms I worry for the future - free education is not the case. I am already worrying about how I will pay everything this year for my four children.”

“We have to take out a loan for books and any extras that may be needed. Books cost up to €300, then there may be other books required during term, it’s a bad system. The school have changed the uniform crest and we have to get everything new, even the Airtex has the crest on. It’s a stress and when this finishes Christmas sticks up its ugly head. It’s a nightmare of debt followed by debt.”

Crested tracksuits are ridiculously priced and can only be bought from the local shop. Also the specific tartan skirt for a girl in 3rd class - €34 from the local shop. Crazy money.