Before her three children have even walked through their schools’ gates next week, Debbie Doyle from Artane in Dublin 5 will have spent €1,150 on their uniforms, books and materials.
With two sons attending secondary school, and a daughter in primary school, Ms Doyle says her costs could have been a lot higher if she had not set up a Facebook page, School Uniforms and Books North Dublin, this summer. The page now has almost 250 members – parents of children attending schools in Artane, Coolock, Raheny, Beaumont and Baldoyle – who donate, sell or swap school items. Ms Doyle estimates that she saved nearly €500 this year by using the page.
“I got 10 books, including workbooks, for free for my 16-year-old son. They would have cost me nearly €400 brand new. I got a school jumper, which would have cost €40, and a PE top which would have cost €25.
“For my 13-year-old son I got a jumper, and it would have been €40. For my nine-year-old daughter, I got school shirts which would have cost €12. All of these were free,” she says.
Ms Doyle explained that she has always passed on her family’s items to friends and neighbours, and vice versa, so it made sense to set up a designated Facebook group for school related items.
“This is not a group of people in need from a disadvantaged area. This is people from all walks of life: working parents, parents who are not working, single-parent families, parents of children with additional needs.
“The expense is too big for parents. If there are people who have these things in the area and they don’t need them anymore, it makes sense for them to be passed on. My aim for this page is for it to be known next year as the place to go for uniforms and books for schools in the area.”
A survey by the charity Barnardos last month showed that the costs for a pupil in fourth class in primary school averaged €424, while the costs for a first-year student in secondary school were €814.
Ms Doyle said that though she got her 13-year-old son’s books through his school’s book rental scheme for €80, her other son’s fifth year books had to be bought, and it was soul destroying to see how quickly editions change.
“His English book says ‘only for 2022′, but I’ve kept it. Should I throw this book of 300 pages away just because one chapter has changed? No, I’m just going to photocopy the missing chapter. I understand that book companies have to make profits but they could buy back the book or something.”
Mother-of-two Sharon Pickering from Wicklow town paid €740 for an iPad and school books for her daughter’s first year of secondary school in 2020. Last year she had to buy the same books again because her second daughter chose the same subjects.
“If you get the iPad, you have to also get the books because you need an e-code (which is in the books) to upload to the iPad,” she says.
“Both of my daughters have picked exactly the same subjects, and I now have two sets of identical books, unopened, because they had different e-codes in them. It’s absolutely nuts.
“They should give you the option of buying the e-code on its own for ten euro or something. I could have asked my second daughter to use the books but I felt I should do the same for her as I did for my first daughter.”
“The cost came as a shock to me. I genuinely wasn’t expecting it to be that much.”
“For me to send my daughter in for the first day of school it was €1,450. That doesn’t include the on-trend school bag. You’re probably talking another €150 for stationary and the school bag. We’re blessed to be able to afford it, but some people can’t.”
Ms Pickering also started a Facebook page, Second-hand School Uniforms, Club Uniforms and Books in Wicklow Town and Surrounding Areas, in 2016.
“People are very generous and they’re not overcharging for items. There are quite a lot of people putting their stuff up for free and letting people know in advance if the cuff of the jumper has a little fray on it or things like that.
“If a uniform went to a recycling centre it would never be given to the right school, and a lot of schools don’t want to take them in. I wanted to give my uniforms to someone who would use them,” she adds.
Another parent, Pauline Furlong, who set up a national Facebook page, School Books For Sale Ireland, points out that while bookshops do often take back old school books, parents might only get 10 per cent of the value of the book they return.
“That might be for a book that was barely used. Then the parent buying that same book second hand might pay 80 per cent for it so there can be a huge discrepancy there.”
“A lot of the time parents do things for simplicity and they go straight into the shop with the booklist and hand it in and buy the books new. The Facebook page is still niche,” she says.
A spokesman for the Department of Education said around 96 per cent of all primary schools and 69 per cent of all post-primary schools operate a book rental scheme.
He said the department provides a book grant to all recognised primary and post-primary schools within the Free Education Scheme in order to provide assistance for books including book rental schemes. Under this scheme, the department provided funding of €17.2 million in 2021 to the schools.
Schools participating in the Department’s DEIS programme receive an enhanced rate of book grant.
A spokesman for the Irish Educational Publishers’ Association (IEPA), which represents nine independent publishing companies in Ireland, says it “strictly adheres to a code of practice agreed with the Department of Education and Skills in 2012″.
“Under the code, school textbooks cannot be revised within four years of being published unless there are changes to the curriculum.
“When a revised edition of a textbook is produced, the old edition will be kept in print for a two-year period, unless annual sales fall below 500 copies. This means any edition of a textbook will be available for a minimum of six years, assuming market demand.
“Title revisions in 2020 were 48 representing 1.5% of total titles – 37 of which were in relation to curriculum change. Title revisions in 2020 were 28 representing 0.74%.”