PARENTS TYPICALLY need to find at least £39 per week for a child’s secondary school education and £19 for a primary-aged child, research for Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has found.

Although education is free at the point of access, in reality the cost of uniform, learning materials, school trips, packed lunch and transport sets most parents back at least £39.01 per week, per secondary school child and £18.69 per primary child.

The findings are based on the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) research programme which since 2008 has set out what the public thinks is needed for a minimum socially acceptable living standard in the UK. Focusing on education, researchers costed up what parents who took part in focus groups between 2012 and 2022 agree children and their families need specifically to meet children’s minimum educational needs.

Excluding before and after-school childcare and household costs like printers, the research found the annual price tag for going to secondary school is £1,755.97 per child and £864.87 for a primary school child. That’s £18,345.85 for children to go through all 14 years of school.

Uniform – including PE kit and school bags, costs most for parents of primary children and comes second only to transport costs for secondary school children. Food – with the minimum defined as a packed lunch – is the second biggest cost for parents of primary children and is also a major weekly cost for secondary school families.

Parents of secondary school children need £279.76 per year for learning resources (including a  phone, calculator, pencil case, textbooks, revision guides, set texts and sometimes subject-specific resources such as ingredients and aprons for food and nutrition lessons, and contributions to materials for Design and Technology).  Essential trips and school activities set parents back about £160 per child per year.

While some families on the lowest incomes might get help with school costs, the support available varies across the nations – so it matters where you live. Eligible low-income parents of primary children in England are paying nearly double (£30.85 per week) what equivalent families in Scotland pay (£16.46) for their children’s education for example. And for some parents of secondary school children, the outlay in Scotland is around 1/4 less (£59.78 per week) than families in all other nations (£78.03 per week).

Child Poverty Action Group calls on all Governments across the UK to ensure all children have as a minimum:

  • Access to affordable school uniform with support available to those that need it.
  • Access to a free hot, balanced meal as part of the school day.
  • The opportunity to attend school residentials and all school trips that enhance learning, with no one missing out due to cost.
  • Access to free transport so that all children can get to and from school every day.
  • Access to a free curriculum with no hidden subject-related costs or charges.

Head of CPAG’s Cost of the School Day programme Kate Anstey said: “Parents are guilt-stricken when their kids are left out at school but when you can’t cover the electricity bill, how is a new PE kit affordable? Our research shows there’s a hefty and often hidden price tag for just the basic essentials needed for school.

“For struggling families it can feel more like pay-as-you-go than universal education.  It’s on each national government to intervene and ensure that every child has at the very least the essentials required to take part in school and learn.  Without that intervention, the very idea of universal education and equal life chances for children is undermined.”

Many schools do what they can to help families with costs, but CPAG’s Cost of the School Day programme which has worked with 55 schools, over 2,000 parents and carers and over 12,000 children, finds parents having to go to great lengths to prevent their children from missing out at school.

* A short Child Poverty action Group Briefing on its school costs research, including cross-nation comparisons here.

* A more detailed Briefing on the MIS findings and how minimum education needs are defined here.

* Source: Child Poverty Action Group