Submission to the Department of Education and Skills on School Uniforms and Other Costs by the National Parents Council post primary

Background
Most post primary schools in Ireland have a school uniform. A school uniform can play a crucial role in establishing and maintaining the school’s identity. It can contribute to setting an appropriate tone, instil pride, ensure all students feel welcome and protect children from external pressure to dress in a particular way. School uniform policy is decided by the Boards of Management in post primary schools.


While there is significant worth in having a school uniform, there can be a high cost associated with it. The National Parents Council post primary continues to witness parents under significant strain when dealing with school costs. In June 2013, the Tackling Back to School Costs, a Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection Report, said the price of textbooks, uniforms, voluntary contributions and other expenses place an unfair and prohibitive burden on parents.


Although the Department of Education and Skills encouraged all post primary schools to engage with parents and consult them in relation to school uniforms in 2013, the National Parents Council post primary hears from parents and parents associations around the country that this is not the case.


The National Parents Council post primary welcomes the commitment of the Department of Education and Skills to emphasize the cost reduction of school uniforms and other costs as outlined in the recently published Action Plan for Education. No child should be disadvantaged in his / her education because of their family’s financial situation.


Uniform Policy
Uniforms should be practical, comfortable and represent value for money for families. Consultation with parents in each post primary school regarding the uniform policy (or any other policy) is essential. The uniform policy should consider its appropriateness for students from minority ethnic backgrounds or different religions affiliations. The uniform policy should also consider transgender students and offer flexibility.

Cost reduction measures that should be considered are:

  • Reduction in number of uniform items that require the school crest
  • Plain coloured uniform or tracksuit items which can be bought from high street retailers
  • Separate school crests that can be either sewn or ironed on to generic uniforms
  • Accommodation of Pre-Worn Uniform sale or Swap Rail before summer holidays
  • Possibility of having a stock of communal blazers that the school can hire out to students for specific functions such as school concerts, ceremonies etc. 
  • Review cost of uniform in consultation with parents annually
  • Schools with be-spoke uniforms to shop around and ensure competitive pricing and value for money. Competitive tendering and bulk purchase by schools might be considered as well.
  • Sufficient time should be provided by schools to parents in relation to changes to their Uniform Policy

All schools should be allowed to have a choice around their uniform however parents must be consulted as they are the ones who bear the cost of the uniform. The current Back to School Clothing and Footwear allowance rate of €200 per student (age 12 – 22) per school year helps some parents, but is not open to all. It also does not reflect the actual cost of the uniforms for the year. Also the Child Benefit of €140 per month ends once a student is 18 years of age, which is not commensurate with the time spent in full-time education in post primary schools (Transition Year, late enrolment into primary school etc.). A child can be 19, nearly 20 when they leave school.


Other Costs
Parents of students in post primary schools are required to cover many costs every year. The cost of first year in secondary school is estimated at €735 per student in average. This includes:

  • Voluntary contributions
  • School Books & Workbooks
  • iPads and e-Books
  • School footwear
  • School gym wear / sportswear
  • Sports equipment
  • Transition Year costs
  • Charges for Curricular ad Extra-Curricular activities
  • School bags & equipment

While the cost of uniforms is being emphasized in many cases, other costs that parents bear throughout the school year in post primary schools are significant. There are very little supports available to low income families in respect of these additional costs and although some of them are presented as voluntary, non-payment often leads to exclusion of students which could be seen as discriminatory.


The National Parents Council post primary fully supports all measures that will lead to reduction of the above costs to parents. We strongly believe that all post primary school parents should be consulted regarding school costs in order to ensure parents can meet these costs. Extra support may be needed for parents who cannot meet these costs in order to ensure that no student is left behind.


On behalf of the National Parents Council post primary, thank you for giving us the opportunity to make a submission and represent parents’ views on the very high cost of schooling.