Finance: Back to School – The cost of shame

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If you have school age children the thinking is that the most expensive part of the school holidays is keeping the kids entertained. It isn’t. Quite simply it is preparing to get the children back to school.

When I was a student I had a job in a well-known high street retailer of books and stationery. Throughout the six weeks holiday a constant stream of families would come in and fill their baskets up. In went new pens, pencils, calculators, notepads, rulers, protractors and compasses. You name it, if we sold it, they would be buying it. The bill for all this would regularly top £100. This wasn’t last year or a couple of years ago. This was in the mid 1990s.

Do we really need new school supplies?

This madness has been going on for nearly 25 years! Did these children need all this brand new equipment at the start of each new term? Of course not. I know that pencils get snapped, pens run out and rulers get lost but these things happen throughout the year. Does a child need to turn up on the first day of school with everything new?

My son has the ability to get more paint on himself than paper. He has also grown a lot in the last couple of months. Thank goodness for the summer term heatwave as he was able to wear his shorts for weeks on end! As he was starting junior school this term I did decide to wait until September before replacing some of his threadbare, stained and too short clothing. I found a couple of new jumpers and trousers in a sale but waited before buying anything else.

When my son went round to his friend’s house, his mum appeared with a selection of jumpers and trousers that her taller son had grown out of. I thought this was a win-win situation. I had saved money and clothes were being given a second lease of life. What I didn’t account for is this is the age of the troll. Be it online or in real life there is always someone ready to comment on your life.

Thankfully, I haven’t experienced this myself but I’ve seen on several different online groups where parents have been criticised for sending their children to school in either last term’s clothes or second-hand ones. Apparently you’re not a worthy mother or father if you dress your child in anything less than expensive clothes. When so many people struggle with the costs of housing, heating and food how did we get to this situation?

I’ve always believed in children wearing school uniforms. It’s an easy way to ensure all children look reasonably smart every single day. It also takes away the hassle of choosing clothes each morning. In a financial sense it is also cheap or is it? I’m lucky in that the infant and junior schools my children have attended don’t insist on a logoed uniform. It is available but not compulsory and every single item can be bought very cheaply from the multitude of supermarkets that surround where we live. Other schools in the borough aren’t as generous. The polo shirts need a logo, as does the sweatshirt that covers up the polo shirt and some even insist on the pupils having a school coat. I find the last one particularly mean as parents have to buy their children two coats as who wants to wear a coat with their school name on at the weekend?

The difference between a plain polo shirt and one with a logo can be quite startling. At our junior school the logo polo shirts are £6.50 each. One of my local supermarkets sells a pack of 3 for £3.00. So I can six polo shirts which means a clean one everyday and one for spare for cheaper than one with a bit of embroidery on.

Where I grew up they still have the grammar school system in place. Grammar schools are promoted on the basis that they give children of all backgrounds the chance to get a first class education if they are academically able enough to pass the 11+. Does this really work in practice? The compulsory blazer starts at £105 for the smallest size and since it is 100% pure wool it probably needs specialist dry cleaning rather being bunged on the quick wash setting at home. Then there’s the jumper which is £24.50. For PE there is one kit and for rugby another. On top of this each child needs to buy their own lab coat retailing at £16. This is before a single shirt or pair of trousers has been purchased. Is a state school education now unaffordable for the average family?

Do you think school uniform is too expensive? Have you been shamed for buying second hand uniform?

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About Ness Charles

Ness is a former qualified independent financial adviser with many years of experience in pensions. Since having her two children she has gone back to her first love of writing. Ness now writes the blog JibberJabberuk focusing not only on personal finance but also her love of cake baking, gardening and taking photographs on her travels around the UK.