THE back-to-school uniform was always the family budget-buster – and how those kids could put on a growth spurt in the summer holidays. Then came the new bags, shoes, and if your blessed mites were lucky enough to go to private school, a library of books as well.
Today’s parents can’t argue over uniform costs – a supermarket war has resulted in £9 outfits for all.
However, they are more likely to look through their fingers at the letter from the class teacher that announces a school trip for which you might need to take out a second mortgage, with peer pressure not to be the one left out.
And a combination of cuts to child benefits and reductions in school budgets means the cost of books, calculators and stationery is now left with parents.
Research from insurer Liverpool Victoria puts the cost at around £170 to get the youngsters back to school.
Meanwhile, online shopping site Twenga, which operates across western Europe, recently published figures showing a 32 per cent increase in the cost of standard kit, putting the cost borne by families in Scotland at up to £199.
Parent councils in Edinburgh say that the cost of primary 6 trips to Lagganlia Centre for Outdoor Education, near Aviemore, favoured by city schools, runs at around £280, while their primary 7 return visit costs £315.
Secondary school ski trips to the continent can run at more than £600, coupled with six weeks of lessons at Hillend.
Those, coupled with lunch costs, land parents with one big financial headache.
Eileen Prior, executive director of the Edinburgh-based Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC), said a trend has emerged where parents are expected to fork out for a variety of school extras.
“There is a greater reliance on parental contribution in recent years,” she says. “They find themselves having to find money for school trips, textbooks, things that would not normally have landed with schools.
“The schools have allowances for materials, but that runs out pretty quickly and there is certainly the sense that parents are having to contribute for more.”
Ms Prior said increasingly parent teacher councils are being asked to raise for cash for equipment and learning materials.
Last year, SPTC research showed those groups managed to raise an estimated £6 million Scotland-wide.
“Lots of things that not long ago would have been seen as things which would have been provided at local authority level, funds for school equipment, library books, are now actually being bought with funds from the associations,” she says.
“It starts off with a few extras in primary school, £10 for the zoo or museum trip, but when your youngster moves onto secondary, suddenly it’s a skiing trip to France.”
She added that bargain school uniforms are often not suitable for some schools.
“Some retailers have uniforms for £9, but that’s only for a very general uniform. If your child goes to a school where you have a blazer, or a specific style of clothing, the costs will rise. It simply becomes another barrier for the parents who are struggling financially.”
All councils in the Lothians offer help with facing the costs of sending children to school. Parents can claim £43 for primary uniforms and £50 for those at secondary. Other benefits include free school meals.
However, parents themselves, and parent teacher councils, are now trying to ease the burden for families, contributing to school funds to allow those less fortunate to take part in school trips.
The new national Curriculum for Excellence includes more community learning and, parents say, more excursions.
Jeanna Brady’s daughters, Rowan, ten, and Lauren, 11, attend Bruntsfield Primary, and she is involved with the school’s parent group, which has set up the Primrose Fund to help less fortunate pupils.
“When it comes to any of the trips, whether it’s just to the museum or the zoo, the transport costs are picked up by the parents – any entrance fee, any transport fee, and, of course, packed lunches and juices.
“These such things are increasingly important, because the Curriculum for Excellence means there are more lessons involving going out into the community more frequently, but it does go up and up.
“At our school, there is a fund which helps those struggling with costs to be able to send their children on trips, because there are costs.”
Whatever the solution to rising costs, some parents must look back fondly to the days when the price of a school dinner was enough.