Millions struggle with school costs

Published: Wednesday 29th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Millions of families are struggling to afford school costs, leaving children unable to make the most of their education, according to a major new report.

It revealed that parents are shelling out around £800 a year per child on basics such as uniform, meals, text books, trips and technology.

In some cases, families have resorted to cutting back on clothing, food or heating, and in some cases even borrowing money, to pay for school-related items, the Children’s Commission on Poverty report found.

It warned that some children in poor families have been left embarrassed or even bullied because their parents cannot afford an item linked to their education.

“We may believe that the UK offers a free education, but what children wear at school, what they eat, whether they can join in with friends, even which classes they choose to attend, are all affected by their ability to afford the costs of school,” the report said.

It added: “Too many children are missing out on the opportunity to make the very most of their education, because they struggle to afford the costs of school life.”

The report is based on a major inquiry into the impact of poverty on school life, which included evidence hearings, written submissions, interviews and a survey.

Two-thirds of UK families – the equivalent of more than three million – say they have struggled with the cost of school, the findings showed. This rises to 95% among those who say they are “not well off at all”.

The commission concluded that overall, families are spending about £6.4 billion a year on school costs – £800 for every primary or secondary age child.

This includes, amongst other costs, £168 on school meals, £159 on school uniform and sports kit, £82 on travel costs and £167 on school trips.

Over half (52%) of parents admitted they had cut back on clothing, food or heating to meet a school-related cost, while one in four (25%) said they had borrowed money.

The inquiry found that while government guidance for schools says that value for money should be a priority when deciding on school uniform, many schools still have policies that mean parents have to buy expensive items of clothing bearing embroidered names or logos.

Around seven in 10 (71%) parents questioned said they had to buy some or all items of uniform from a specific supplier.

More than half (52%) of parents said they had struggled to pay for school dinners, with one in five youngsters saying they had missed out on a meal because they did not have enough money.

The cost of school trips was also an issue, with two in five children from families describing themselves as “not well off at all” revealing they had missed a term-time school trip because of the price.

While computers and internet access are increasingly necessary for pupils to do homework, three in 10 youngsters from poor families said they had fallen behind at school because their family could not afford access to these facilities. A similar proportion – around a third – said they were lagging behind because their parents could not afford the books or materials needed.

The commission’s inquiry, led by a panel of 16 children from across England, also found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of children in “not well off at all” families had felt embarrassed at school because they could not afford the cost of something, while 27% said they had been bullied as a result.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said: “Children are supposed to be benefiting equally from a free education. Yet the reality is that UK families are paying billions of pounds each year towards the cost of school.

“Children are being penalised and denied their right to an equal education simply because their parents cannot afford the basics. This is just not right.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “The report contains some excellent recommendations, including the suggestion of extending the offer of free school meals to low-income working families.

“NAHT provides advice to its members and schools on the Department for Education rules about the cost of school uniforms and charging for text books and school trips. This should ensure that children are not excluded merely because of living in poverty.”

Schools Minister David Laws said: “Through our pupil premium we are helping schools transform the way they educate our disadvantaged children. This £2.5 billion of extra money this year alone, in the hands of excellent teachers and with schools held to account, is working. A recent Ofsted report showed that the achievement gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers is closing.

“We are also determined to help all families with the cost of bringing up their children. We have cut income tax for millions of ordinary working parents, and introduced free school meals for all infant children.”

Published: Wednesday 29th October 2014 by The News Editor

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