Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Education May Be Priceless, But It’s Also Pricey

Poets and politicians – as well as parents – have been known to go on about the value of a good education, which has often been deemed priceless. Priceless it may be, but there is no denying that schooling itself can also be pretty pricey, as millions of British mums and dads discover anew every year. 

And we’re not even talking about the costs of going to university, though there is plenty to say about that as well. The wallet draining begins long before the higher education years, a point that has been addressed by the research firm Conlumino, which recently estimated the size of the 2015 back-to-school market to be approximately £1.45 billion, give or take a few hundred thousand pounds. 

School uniforms took up about six of every £10 in 2014, according to the research firm, and this year’s ratio was expected to be about the same. And a survey by the Department for Education (DfE) revealed that parents and guardians of children between the ages of four and 16 in English state-funded schools spent an average of £212.88 on their child’s uniform during the 2014-15 school year, with girls, perhaps not surprisingly, being more expensive to dress than boys. 

Some items such as shirts, blouses and shoes are essential for all schools, whilst others, such as ties or hats, are particular to certain schools. Blazers seem to be increasing in use overall and are the most expensive item parents have to purchase, averaging £34.05 in the last school year, according to the DfE survey. 

Other back-to-school expenses include rucksacks, sports kit, stationery, accessories and schoolbooks. It all adds up, and some mums and dads are feeling the pain in their bank accounts

Pressure from schools

As if parents weren’t under enough financial strain where their offspring’s schooling is concerned, some schools have been putting pressure on parents to contribute to the schools’ budgets. 

This is according to recent research by the British Humanist Association (BHA), which found that many of the schools soliciting contributions were state faith schools, such as Church of England or Catholic institutions. And some of these schools’ solicitations are potentially in violation of the law. 

It is perfectly legal for schools in England to seek voluntary donations from parents, but they must make it clear that there is no obligation to pay. Yet the researchers found that a number of the schools framed their solicitations more as demands than as requests. 

For instance, some schools requesting contributions (such as to their building funds) stressed that the requested amount was a minimum only, and they encouraged families who could afford to pay more to do so. 

One school cited in the study even wrote, “…as a voluntary aided school, parents of the pupils... are responsible for contributing 10% towards all building works” – and then the school went on to ask for an additional £100 per family. 

A Church of England spokesperson said that the admissions code is very clear about financial contributions playing no part in the admissions process, and that the Church’s expectation is that all schools adhere to the education code. For its part, the Government has said that it will investigate all claims of rules being breached. 

Spend where it’s important

Some expenses – education costs being a prime example – are an unavoidable part of parenthood. But it is still possible to avoid overspending, even for necessities. Smart parents are always looking for ways to economise without depriving their offspring. 

Though a sometimes frustrating quest it is a worthy one, Learning to economise and prioritise, and teaching their children to do the same, are amongst the most valuable gifts that parents can give their kids. 

Parents can, for instance, shop around for the best deals on that major expense: school uniforms. There are good online resources to help mums and dads save money when outfitting their kids for school. 

And even though helping to fund schools is an investment in everybody’s future, parents should educate themselves about funding priorities, including the legal issues involved. They should learn to stand strong and not succumb to pressure to give money to schools that may be running afoul of the law anyway. 

Granted, economising can be a challenge when there are so many necessities and some of them are not cheap, no matter how diligently one hunts for bargains. To make saving money even more of a challenge, children and parents alike are constantly being bombarded with marketing messages that skillfully promote splurging on things they don’t really need. 

But with a concerted effort from parents and kids, even families that don’t have a large income can learn to prioritise and save, so they will always have money when they really need it.

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