Cost of kitting out schoolkids spirals

By Elizabeth Binning

Pauline Faavae with her children  from left: Tiare (11), John (10), Emmanuel (7), Mary (13) and Presayus (6). Photo / Richard Robinson
Pauline Faavae with her children from left: Tiare (11), John (10), Emmanuel (7), Mary (13) and Presayus (6). Photo / Richard Robinson

Parents are forking out thousands of dollars to get their children ready for the new school year.

The cost of uniforms, stationery and school donations varies greatly from school to school but one thing most parents agree on is that it seems to be more expensive than ever.

Next week about 745,000 children will be starting the school year, 58,000 of whom are estimated to be new entrants who will need school bags, lunchboxes and other first-year items such as pencil cases.

For many parents this also means buying new school uniforms - or enough clothes for growing children - stationery and paying administration costs, activity fees and school donations.

The Herald spoke to several families and found it typically costs several hundred dollars to get each child ready for the new year.

For parents with more than two children this can quickly reach thousands of dollars depending on what school they attend.

Auckland father Mike Trathen, whose 5-year-old, James, is starting at a public East Auckland primary school this year, was surprised at the costs. His son's summer uniform costs $289, stationery is about $100 and he estimates the winter uniform will be a further $200.

He is still to receive information about school donations but last year they were $280, or $250 if paid by a certain date. That puts the total price of sending James to school for his first year at more than $800.

"I think that for the most part the costs are outrageous," he said. "When I think back to when I was at school we didn't need half the things that are needed now and many of the stationery items now required to be purchased used to be provided by the school - such as crayons, scissors and glue."

He said it was also frustrating that there was only one shop in Howick selling uniforms for all the schools in the area.

Mr Trathen's wife attended the school's second-hand uniform sale last week and while prices were pretty cheap there were no boy's shorts or shirts and only a few winter items.

Mangere Budgeting and Family Support Services chief executive Darryl Evans said he had seen a "stream of families" needing help with the cost of sending their children to school this year.

Mr Evans said many people who had traditionally been able to cope with school costs were now struggling.

"A lot of people are genuinely in strife - some are in panic mode - but the reality is schooling in New Zealand is quite expensive and we are seeing families having to buy uniforms anywhere from $200 to $600."

He said staff had seen one family with two daughters at one Auckland girls' college where the uniform cost about $900 each.

"A couple of years ago they more than likely could have afforded a couple of pairs of shorts and a couple of blouses. Now they are struggling to buy one of everything."

The Ministry of Social Development traditionally receives a huge increase in requests for help at this time of year as parents struggle to afford the costs of uniforms, stationery and fees.

Figures released to the Herald show that in the first 10 months of 2010, more than $261,000 was handed out in special needs grants and $11.5 million in advances for school-related costs.

BACK TO SCHOOL COMES WITH $2600 BILL

It's costing Pauline Faavae more than $2600 to send her children to school this year - but while it's expensive, the Auckland mum says it's worth it.

Mrs Faavae has seven children, five of which are at school and all need their uniforms, stationery, school donations and activity fees paid for.

One of the biggest costs is for her daughter Mary who is starting at Mt Roskill Grammar and needs $560 worth of uniform, which is only available from the school's uniform shop. Donations are expected to be around $150, while a Year 9 stationery pack costs $40.

All up it will cost about $750 to get Mary off to her first year of high school. Her son John is starting his first year at Remuera Intermediate so he also needs a full uniform which costs nearly $400. After stationery and activity fees of $250 are added to school donations, his bill comes to nearly $900.

Mrs Faavae also has another daughter at the same intermediate. She is able to use last year's uniform but will need stationery, activity fees and donations covered.

There are also two children at primary but they have just moved to a different school so they need new uniforms.

Mrs Faavae said the start of the school year was always expensive but says it is worth it knowing her children are getting a good education.

"I think it's worth it if you know you're sending your children to a good school and they are being well looked after - but it's not easy having to come up with the money for it all."

- NZ Herald

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