What is the true cost of going back to school

Wednesday 23 August 2023
Students and teacher are laughing and enjoying themselves during a digital tablet lesson at school

Before the 2022 school year, the government introduced new rules to drive down the cost of school uniforms. The aim was to make school uniforms 'affordable for all'. But, with 29% of UK children living in poverty and the ongoing cost of living crisis, many parents still struggle to budget for back to school shopping.

Data released by The Children's Society from the last two years shows that uniform costs are around £287 for a child in primary school and £422 for a child in secondary school. These costs put huge pressure on families who are already struggling to manage high energy bills and inflation. As a result, some families across the UK are having to cut back on other essentials such as food or electricity.

What makes school uniforms so expensive?

One reason is schools insisting on branded items, such as PE kits with school logos or students' initials. These items are more expensive and must be bought from the school or specialist shops. This means parents miss out on more affordable back to school options such as second-hand school uniform sales or bundle deals by supermarkets like Aldi or Lidl.

What other back to school costs are there?

Back to school costs are not just expensive uniforms. Parents also have to think about stationery, new shoes, lunchboxes, trainers for PE, and book bags. As a result, some parents or carers have to budget for back to school across the year, with many reaching out to charities like Action for Children for help.

Why is the cost of going back to school so worrying?

The cost of going back to school does not only impact a family's finances, but can also contribute to feelings of social exclusion, social anxiety, or shame. School uniforms are meant to equalise children and reduce the pressure of having expensive, fashionable clothes. But if a family is unable to afford these uniforms, or if they have to go without other essentials to afford them, it can heighten these feelings of shame and social exclusion.

The average parent will spend £1755.97 per year per child in secondary school

Loughborough University

The difficulties of budgeting for back to school also don't stop after September. Research by Loughborough University showed that parents and carers with children in secondary education must allow for an extra £39 a week to send their child to school. This is to pay for things like bus money or train fares, packed lunches, and other items like books or calculators. They found that for the average parent in the UK, sending a child to secondary school will cost around £1755.97 a year.

We understand the difficulties that going back to school can bring. That’s why we work with vulnerable families across the UK to help reduce the financial pressure of back to school. We do this by providing emergency food packages, books, clothing, and school uniforms. These materials should not be a luxury. In fact, they are a necessity if we want children to thrive.

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