Sending a child to a state secondary school costs families at least £39 each week, and £19 a week for children at primary school, according to research based on a child’s minimum needs.
The study by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) found that the associated costs of transport, lunch, uniform, school trips and learning materials combined amounts to hundreds of pounds a year for each child at a UK state school.
Low-income families from England faced the highest costs, according to the research, compared with those in Scotland and Wales, because of fewer benefits available – such as free school meals and grants for expenses such as school uniform.
Using interviews and focus groups, the researchers calculated that the annual price tag for going to secondary school was £1,756 per child and £865 for a primary school child in 2022.
Over 14 years of a child’s education – at primary and secondary school – the cost would total more than £18,000 in 2022 prices.
Adding wrap-around childcare for primary-age children adds an additional £5,000 a year to a family’s costs.
The CPAG said its research revealed for the first time “the actual costs families face sending their children to school” based on what parents and carers with school-age children thought are the essential items every family should be able to afford for their child’s participation at school.
Kate Anstey, head of the CPAG’s “cost of the school day” programme, said the figures highlighted the difficulties that families on low incomes faced in accessing free state education.
“Parents are guilt-stricken when their kids are left out at school but when you can’t cover the electricity bill, how is a new PE kit affordable?” Anstey said.
“Our research shows there’s a hefty and often hidden price tag for just the basic essentials needed for school. For struggling families, it can feel more like pay-as-you-go than universal education.”
The programme, involving Loughborough University’s research into minimum income standards, found that transport charges such as bus fares for secondary school pupils were the largest single cost – at nearly £500 a year on average – and were the major reason why costs were higher for older students.
Uniforms, including shoes, bags and required sports kit, were found to cost £482 a year on average for secondary school pupils, while the minimum cost for a packed lunch was found to be just under £350 for both younger and older pupils.
The research found that families from deprived backgrounds faced widely varying costs depending on where they lived.
Lower-income parents in England with primary schoolchildren are likely to pay about £30 a week for their children’s education, nearly double that of families in Scotland paying £16 a week, because the government in Scotland has wider provision of free school meals and more generous grants for uniform costs.