Free Public Education Still Costs British Parents, Study Finds

According to a report released by British insurer Aviva, the personal cost of sending a child to a state school has gone up by 11% since five years ago to £22,000 over the course of the student’s academic career — a stiff price tag for schools that are supposed to be tuition-free. Although parents don’t pay school fees, they still spend an average of £1,614 per year on extracurricular activities, breakfast clubs, after-school activities and uniforms.

Hilary Osborne of the Guardian reports that the largest chunk of the money is spent on after school care, with parents spending on average £558 annually on activities for their children directly outside school hours. The next biggest expense is transportation, which cost families about £366 per year. The cost of getting students to and from schools has gone up by less than 3% over the past 5 years because fewer parents are now driving their kids to and from school individually, and have come to rely on car pools or public transportation instead.

The survey found that half of parents prepare a packed lunch for their children, while a further 6% have children who prepare their own. One in three parents favour school dinners while 5% provided the money but allowed them to choose how and where they spend it.

Aviva said the average cost of feeding a child at school was £379 a year, while uniforms cost £108 and shoes £78. Sports kit added another £59.

Louise Colley of Aviva said: “The majority of children in the UK are taught through the state system, but it’s clear that this is far from ‘free’ for parents.

Thus, even fee-free schools could be a challenge for low-income families to afford, Colley says.

The data comes from Aviva’s annual Family Finances report that tracks spending in households around the country since 2011. It is the first report in years that shows an increase in average family income and a decline of expenditures. That is, undoubtedly, the good news.

The bad news is that families have increased their unsecured borrowing – typically from credit cards – by 16% and the average debt load carried by each family increased from £10,563 to £12,834.

Peter Tutton, head of policy at StepChange debt charity, said the report made uncomfortable reading. “Increasing debt levels and falling numbers of people making monthly debt repayments shows the increasingly fragile nature of many household budgets,” he said.

“While the increase in average incomes should provide some respite for families’ finances, the reality remains that we are seeing increasing numbers of people falling behind on essential bills like rent, gas and electricity and council tax.”