Next week our gutsy feisty little girl will be starting big school. A momentous occasion for any family. I have lots of emotions and thoughts going round in my head about this event in our lives, but for today’s post I’m just going to focus on one element of starting school – or indeed going back to school – that hadn’t really occurred to me. The cost of it all. Now anyone reading this who already has one or more children in the Irish education system will be well aware of the cost involved. But for anyone whose children aren’t at school yet or who doesn’t have children, hold on to your seats!
Ok, cards on the table. F will be starting in a special school next week, it is the only place suitable for her needs. (I am an advocate of mainstreaming but my daughter can’t wait 20 or 30 years until that is possible for her – will be coming back to this in another post.) She cannot read or write yet and is not learning at that stage so we don’t have books to buy. I know from other parents that the cost of books can be huge, not all schools operate book rental schemes and when they do it doesn’t cover all books. And then there is the workbook issue – other parents more qualified than me are writing about this as part of the Irish Parenting Bloggers blog march this week – but suffice it to say that parents often cannot hand books down the family because they use workbooks now which the child writes in and then can never be used again. This raises the question with me why are workbooks needed? What ever happened to a text book and an exercise book (as I called them growing up in England) or copy book (as they are called here in Ireland)?
Anyway I digress, back to our situation. So no book costs, ok one big outlay we don’t have – yet. We got a letter a while back stating that the cost of art and stationery supplies was €35 per child per term. At three terms a year that’s €105. Not a vast sum of money I grant you but enough when you have to find it. However, I have no problem with paying it – I would prefer that schools were given enough money in their budgets to meet all these costs but that’s not the case at the moment.
So we have a running total of €105. F’s school offers optional dance/movement sessions for the children at €40 per term. We have opted for this as F loves music so much and we want to expose her to as many activities as possible. So there’s €120 more. Total cost towards our daughter’s education for her first year in big school €225. Not bad at all when I hear other parents having figures of €1000!
But then came the details of the uniform. As a teenager I railed against the idea of a uniform – it suppresses individuality, its all about conformity etc etc etc. As a mum I love the idea of a uniform! F can be hard on clothes and my laundry load is always at least 60% her clothes. The school informed me which shop the uniform had to be bought in, so off I went last week to purchase my daughter’s first school uniform. Oh I was so disappointed in it! I will be coming back to the uniform again in another post, but in the context of school costs, my main annoyance is the cost and the crest. Her uniform consists of a sweatshirt which has the school crest embroidered on it, sweatpants and a polo shirt. Total cost €57 (I bought two polo shirts cos she’ll never get a week out of one.) €45 for a bloody jogging outfit and €6 each for 2 canary yellow polo shirts!!!! The quality isn’t great and certainly not worth that money in my opinion. But that’s the uniform and that’s what she has to have. I swallowed my annoyance and paid over the money. So when a friend told me that Penneys have navy sweatpants for €5 I nearly went ballistic. Y’see you can’t just buy the sweatshirt of F’s uniform, its all or nothing. And why? Because of the damn embroidered crest. This same friend has removable crests that she sews onto her son’s uniform – he attends a special school in a different county.
Why the need for an embroidered crest on a school sweatshirt? Why can’t the school get them made up and sell them to parents to sew on to the generic school clothes available in department stores everywhere? €45 for the sweatshirt and sweatpants. And remember too that families who have a child attending special school do not usually have another child attending the same school. So they can’t even pass the uniform down to the next one. They can’t be tumble dried and as I said F is hard on clothes (she crawls and bumshuffles a lot) so I’m going to be washing these two or three times a week and then frantically trying to dry them ready for the next day. More fuel costs. As a single-income household I cannot afford to fork out €90 for two sets of uniforms at the start of the year. (I’m trying not to think about the fact that F is growing fast and may well need another uniform before the year is out)
My parenting journey is different from most people’s because of F’s disability. And yes we aren’t looking at anything like the back-to-school costs that some parents are. But its still an added pressure. I would like to hear any school – special or otherwise – justify the need for the specific uniform, particularly when it is extremely unlikely it can be handed down a family. And families of children with special needs generally don’t have money to spare…..