Back to School Inequality

The beginning of the new school year should be a positive time for children and parents as kids start new classes and sometimes new schools. Instead, for many families it is a time of huge financial stress. Costly uniforms are now not only required in secondary schools, but also in many primary schools. When 88 percent of parents organising children for school are under financial stress, the serious impact of school costs cannot be denied.

Families have talked to the media about cutting back food in order to pay for uniforms costing more than $600 per child. Any advances for such costs from Work and Income have to be repaid and because all schools are different, uniforms cannot move with the child. Cheap second-hand uniforms are not always available, let alone desirable for the children. Things are tough for parents of kids who might not be the standard size. A lot of time is spent at high school level monitoring and punishing over uniforms not being properly worn, shoes being the wrong colour etc. This has nothing to do with education. Some families can afford part of the uniform but not the new shoes or expensive blazers.

© Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, via Wikimedia Commons
© Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, via Wikimedia Commons

Well-off families can easily fund the uniform and stationery costs alongside the school “donation”, for other families though, it is in the realm of the impossible. Truancy has been anecdotally linked to young people not having the right uniform and therefore not going to school. We do not need to maintain these barriers in the public education system, we need free education to be actually free. The Government should stop the using the Tomorrow’s Schools hands-off excuse and properly fund schools, and require uniforms that are cheap and simple where schools and parents actually want them to be.

At Rātana yesterday, Bill English said “we have reached the limits of what government can do” to address poverty. Absolutely ludicrous! They could start by helping families and schools. Right now, many schools have to provide stationery because families cannot afford it. Why won’t the Government provide enough money to make this easy for the schools balancing competing costs? Why is it ok for the poorer schools and families to struggle with all these costs and start the year with stress while the wealthy can focus on the education issues and parents can fund all kinds of extras? We know why and this is the year to change the Government and make it better for all our children in all our schools.