Over the next couple of weeks students will be heading back to school - some of them for the first time. Northern Advocate reporter Mikaela Collins speaks to teachers, parents, and children about the year ahead.

While sending the kids back to school will be a relief for some Northland parents, for others it is the opposite.

The costs of stationery, uniforms, and school fees - which can total upwards of $300 per student depending on the requirements of each school - can put immense pressure on families.

Whangārei mum Calena Shortland, who has three children from intermediate age to high school age, knows the struggle.

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"For me, it's my responsibility to try and clothe them, have shoes on their feet so they can go to school nicely," she said. "Last year we had to pay probably about $800 because they started fresh."

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Shortland said finding second-hand uniforms which fitted her kids - her 13-year-old son is around 182cm (6ft) - was hard.

But she received assistance from Work and Income which was a big help.

"The assistance really did come in handy because I just needed to get him a whole new uniform from last year."

Work and Income can help low-income families to purchase school stationery, fees and uniforms for children to attend school. Last year between January and March, it helped 638 families with school costs.

Shortland was offered the assistance when she visited the Kamo Work and Income office.

She said staff explained how the assistance worked with repayments being deducted from her weekly benefit, a payback system she was happy with.

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"That's probably one of the really good things about it. You don't see it, you don't miss it.

"It was a really big help, especially at the beginning of the school year. We actually went into it quite smoothly," she said.

Eru Lyndon, regional commissioner for the Ministry of Social Development. Photo / John Stone
Eru Lyndon, regional commissioner for the Ministry of Social Development. Photo / John Stone

Eru Lyndon, regional commissioner for the Ministry of Social Development, said the importance of education was well understood by most Northland whānau.

"We know that children and young people do well when they are engaged in education through their childhood and adolescent years. Their health outcomes improve, future earning potential and job opportunities increases, and overall wellbeing is enhanced," he said.

The back-to-school struggle is something felt by parents around the region.

Postie, one of the country's largest national retailers of school uniform items, has released the results of an independent study which surveyed 54 Northland families about the stress that comes with purchasing back-to-school items.

The results show 44 per cent of Northland parents felt worried, exhausted or overwhelmed at the thought of getting the kids organised to go back to school; 72 per cent felt unsure, worried or confused about the money they needed to save for school uniforms; and 48 per cent stressed over adding new school uniforms into the household budget.

A solo dad of four from Ahipara, who did not want to be named, said this time of year was pretty tough on the back pocket.

"It's getting pretty ridiculous for uniforms. For an intermediate it's around about $300 for just the uniform without stationery. Then you've got to get the stationery which is between $50 and $70. I just make do with whatever I can," he said.

The dad has four children aged 5, 8, 9 and 10 in his care. When they came into his care in 2017 he had to leave his job in Auckland and move to Kaitaia where his mother lived as the house he was living in was not suitable for children.

"It's been tough because I think the main thing for me has been accommodation and jobs are few and far between, especially when you're out here on your own with not much support. My mum moved back to Auckland and she pretty much was my only support up here," he said.

He said the period from Christmas until school starts was "a pretty tough time".

"In October-November you're stressing out about Christmas and once you get that over and done with you've got to entertain your kids for six or eight weeks. And then after that you've got to get them back into school so you've got to get them uniforms and books and stuff like that."

Two of the children - the 8-year-old and 9-year-old - are being sponsored by Variety the Children's Charity and the other two are awaiting sponsorship.

He said that sponsorship helped with uniforms, school supplies and clothing and without it sending the children back to school would be "more stressful than it is".

"It's just been really helpful. It eases a lot of pressure," he said

If you would like to find out if you qualify for School Education Costs assistance visit the www.workandincome.govt.nz

If you can help sponsor a family, or you are a family wanting to apply for some help, visit variety.org.nz