The families in the study struggle with the costs of schooling: school dinners, school trips, cooking costs, equipment, uniforms and shoes. As Jamie notes, having these costs for his six children gets particularly expensive. He says:
‘Having a bit of a discount would help, on things like school uniform and that because the two oldest ones, they have to wear school uniforms, so they have to have trousers, shirt and tie, skirts, whatever, they cannae just... the primary school kids you can throw on joggers and a black sweatshirt and they'll go to school quite happily, but the older ones, it has to look nice... I suppose things like that could be a bit cheaper’.
When asked about school costs, Debbie said:
‘There’s milk money and book money and other monies. And wee (her son) costs a wee bit more now. He grows every 2 or 3 months, he's just ... the cost in clothes, that’s got more, school uniform, school shoes, he's already gone through three pairs of school shoes, trousers, I think we’re on our second set of uniform, yep, so that all costs... and lunches.’
Liam says that school uniform costs are considerable but that he receives a school clothing grant of £45 each year. However, there are other costs:
‘But then there's other costs with the school. I mean, the school is always coming up with wee trips and things like that and then you’re caught out. It's not very good that they don't give you enough notice. You know, and maybe it's only two or three pound and they don't really see that two and three pounds is a big issue, but when you're struggling it is. If you've got to put aside that extra couple of pounds from here and there, you're robbing Peter to pay Paul, you know, it can be an issue’. Liam says that if the school able to give more notice on trips he could save money from larger spends such as food shopping more easily.
Fiona particularly struggles with shoes for her growing sons:
‘I haven’t got the money to go and spend £60 on pair of school shoes I am buying the cheapest ones that I can find but they’re not lasting very long because they’re the cheapest ones. So they got school shoes for going back to school and then my mum helped me at October to get them boots because it was really bad rain and everything, so my mum got one of them boots and I got the other but that’s forty/fifty pound as well. And that’s me had to go and buy (her son) new school shoes again. I got (her other son) them as well but I bought him the cheapest ones I could find and I said “they’ll do you until I’ve got money to get you a no bad pair”. But it’s fine, because he’s at primary school it doesn’t really matter’.
Fiona says that her son at primary school is easier to buy for because they do not have strict uniform requirements. Her older son, who is at secondary school, has to have black shoes and trainer shoes, which is more difficult to find and more expensive to buy. Fiona buys an item of school clothing from the local supermarket every week over the summer months so that they have enough for going back to school. She says that affording school trips and after school activities is difficult. The letter sent home advertising these activities, such as karate or dancing, will say they are on a first-come first-served basis with payment. Fiona explains that if these letters come home on a Monday, she won’t be able to afford to make the payment until the Thursday. This means that often her son will miss out due to the timing of her income. Fiona reckons that her sons have stopped asking her for these extra activities because they know the difficulty she has in finding the money.
Jennifer also finds the cost of buying school clothes and shoes, especially for her older son who has large feet, difficult:
‘I’m quite lucky because my son’s no big on fancy names, well he’d like to be big on fancy names, but he’s no got the option, and he just goes with that because he’s not used to it... if I get him decent school shoes, and I’m no saying he’s getting the best and I’m no saying he’s getting the name, but if he’s getting ones that’s suitable for him and for the school, it’s way above what (you get from school clothing grant)’.
Jennifer finds it difficult when school trips coincide for her children. One of her sons was going to the Science Centre which cost £12 and the other was going to a different trip which cost £7. On top of this she has to provide a packed lunch on these days too. She says it’s difficult when ‘it all comes at once’ and that ‘it totally stresses me out’. She goes onto explain that school trips can be costly even when they’re subsidised: ‘(my middle son) is going to a play at the theatre which, I think we’ve to pay something like, and it’s subsidised by the PSA, but is still to contribute, I think it’s £15 for that one. But £15 is £15. £15 can nearly buy (her younger son’s) trainers. But you just have to do it, you just have to pay it’.
Fiona’s sons are entitled to free school meals, which they took at primary school. But since her eldest has moved up to high school this has changed. Although the daily amount of the school lunch is uploaded onto a card for use in the school dining room, his friends are not on free school dinners so they get money from their parents for lunch instead. They either buy lunch from the van outside the school or the shop along the road from the school. She said that after a short while at high school her son changed. He didn’t want to go to school. He developed a very bad attitude towards his mother and displayed other distressed behaviour such as pretending he was sick or had diarrhoea so he isn’t have to go to school. Fiona discovered that he didn’t’ want to go to school because he was getting bullied for being poor because he didn’t have any money to go to the shop or van because all his food money was on the card for use in the school dining hall. This lasted from the start of school in August until after Christmas before Fiona got to the bottom of it and found a solution. Fiona decided to give her son money for school lunches instead so that he can use the van or shop and be the same as his friends. She says:
‘I had to go and pick him up from the school one day because he had been sick. Just before lunchtime. He never had any dinner money left. And I said to him “what’s happening? What’s going on?” and he said “I’m getting bullied because I’m poor and I’ve not got any money for a bacon roll”. I ken handing him £10 isn’t the answer to everything and I’m not going to be able to do that all his life. I’m not going to be able to pay him out of situations but I just thought, “I can’t... You’re in first year at (high) school. It’s hard enough as it is”. He got bullied right though primary school ... and I thought “I cannae bear the thought of you being here and not enjoying it and just getting bullied because you haven’t got money for a bacon roll”.
‘He’ll come and say to me on the Thursday or the Friday or sometimes the Monday, “have you got my dinner money this week Mum?” And I’m like “Oh, ehm, aye”. I give him £10 a week and if he’s got money after the week he’ll not ask for any more. Ken, he’ll try and make it last him as long as possible. I just don’t want him getting singled out because he’s not got that wee bit of money to go to the shop or go to the van’.
Fiona asked her son why he didn’t tell her he was being bullied and he said because he knew she didn’t have any money to give him and so didn’t want her to worry. She finds this very hard.
When asked what would take the pressure off her financially Jennifer says:
‘Free school meals would be great because I wouldn’t need to think about that and worry about that’. Jennifer pays for the boys school meals on a daily basis and says, ‘there’s still days when I say, maybe on a Friday, I often say to (her middle son), “I’ve not got any change”, this sounds terrible, “I’ve not got any change. Just say to the teacher that I’ll pay two on Monday” and he’ll say “yeah that’s fine”. He thinks it’s normal because I do it all the time. The teachers probably know I do it all the time but that means on Monday, I get money on a Monday morning, I can go into the office and say “(my son) never took his dinner money on Friday”, it’s because it saves me money. It means that on a Friday, the lady I work with always wants to go to Morrison’s for a cup of tea, and I think “God I’ve not got money for a cup of tea” and I know I’m using (my son’s) dinner money for a cup of tea that I’m not particularly wanting’.
When asked whether there is the option to pay for the school dinners weekly Jennifer says yes there is but she never has the money to pay a weekly dinner money upfront:
‘If my boys went to school, the school is not going to see them without a dinner, but at the same time, I would hate anybody to think I can’t afford that (lunch for her sons)’.