Fiona lives with her two sons aged 11 and 13 years old. She separated from her husband when her sons were little and has been a lone parent since.
At the start of the study, Fiona’s income consisted of income support and carer’s allowance and she found the cost of school-related items very difficult, especially keeping both sons in school and training shoes. She said: ‘if the bairns need school shoes... (13-year-old son) come in, just at the winter, just after Christmas it was, and it was snowing, and he come in with his school shoes with no sole on them. He had pulled the sole right off somehow… and I was like “how am I going to manage to get his school shoes?” You know, you haven’t got any money, you can put money aside for savings because you just don't have any left. You can't out of one weekly money, there's no way you can go and buy something extravagant (child’s school shoes). You can’t, there's just no money for it. So was quite good, because the week after he lost the sole off his shoes, it was snowing so he went to school in his wellies. So it (the bad weather) worked out in my favour, it gave me a couple of weeks to put a wee bit of money back (each week) to then buy him school shoes… You can't plan for unforeseen circumstances’.
In the second year of the study, Fiona was a student at the local further education college and continued to struggle with school costs especially since her elder son has now made the transition to secondary school. She says: ‘It’s so expensive. I got (her son) new school trainers, maybe four or five weeks ago, and I’m trying to get cheap ones… I said to (her other son) “we’ll try and get yours in a couple of weeks” but that’s been four or five weeks and I’ve still not managed’.
With Fiona’s younger son being at primary school it is easier to cover his costs because they do not have strict uniform requirements. For her older son, however, it is more difficult. Fiona resorts to asking her mother for help to buy her sons’ shoes and uniform which she finds difficult. Fiona says: ‘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’.
Fiona’s sons are entitled to free school meals, which at primary school is a straightforward process. 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 either buy lunch from the van outside the school or the shop along the road from the school. Shortly after making the transition, Fiona’s son stopped wanting 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. 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 with his friends. Fiona’s solution has been to give her son money for school lunches instead, at great personal expense to herself, 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 just thought, “I can’t... You’re in first year at 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”.
When Fiona asked her son why he didn’t tell her he was being bullied 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.
In the third year of the study, Fiona has finished college and is now working. The positive difference to their lives is tremendous. They boys now have a new house that they can invite friends to, Fiona can afford to give them dinner money, so life in general, and school life in particular, has changed. As regards her elder son now, Fiona says: ‘Aye, he’s doing really, really well, they’re really pleased with him. We had parents’ night not long ago, I just felt they were talking about somebody else, not (my son), seriously, not (my son). Just, honestly, amazing. Doing really well’.