THE laptop costs £200, another £600 goes on the overseas school trip, then there's the £300 music tuition bill….the costs of getting your child through the school year can ramp up breathtakingly. According to the most recent Cost Of A Child report from the Centre for Economic And Business Research the average parent spends around £232,000 raising their child from birth to age 21. An estimated £74,430 is spent on education if you send your child to state school. Hence, with the back to school period which starts this week in Scotland can be fraught.

Research from American Express has found that back to school would cost the average family with two children £332 just to get the prescribed items from their uniform lists. For some, of course, such costs are impossible to meet. A recent survey by the teacher’s union EIS found that 72% of teachers reported an increase in the number of children coming to school without items such as stationery, school-bags and PE equipment.

Schools often help out those on free school meals, but even for others with more money it is often a struggle. From uniform and equipment to school trips, the school year can be bank-breaking. Here we investigate the cost facing parents.

School Uniform

(Between £30-£400, average £316)

Earlier this summer, Aldi and Lidl created a media storm with a price war over school uniforms, as both produced mind-bogglingly cheap whole uniform sets, excluding shoes, which came in at £3.75. But not all uniforms cost so little – in 2015 the Children’s Society published a report which found parents were spending £316 per year on school uniform for secondary school children and £251 per year for those at primary school.

Meanwhile, for some parents even those £3.75 shoes can seem impossibly dear. With not all uniform colours and designs available at the budget supermarkets, and some only obtainable through particular stockists, often the cheaper lines aren't even an option. At leading Glasgow school Jordanhill, the school blazer alone will set you back between £65 and £84 through John Lewis.

Recent years have seen relaxation on restrictions in some schools following campaigns protesting the use of official suppliers, or demands for uniform with official badging. Sara Spencer, who manages the Cost Of The School Day project for Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland (CPAG), observes that in the last few years there has been a rise in the number of families who appear to be struggling with school costs, which she attributes to increased child poverty and the impact of austerity and welfare reform. Uniform costs is one of the biggest issues raised.

A CPAG survey on clothing grants and costs found a fifth of parents said that they were late paying rent or another essential payment because of paying for uniform. One parent said: “I took hand-me downs, bought cheap equivalents and could not badge most of my kids' uniform. I also raided the lost property cupboard just before it went to charity (with permission of course).”

There is help for those who struggle. Clothing grants are available, though access to them isn’t always so straightforward, and frequently parents do not have the funds before the start of term. Plus, there are also a growing number of Back to School Banks, the first of which was set up in East Renfrewshire by Sandra Douglas, who, while out shopping with her teacher daughter for Christmas, was shocked to find that she had clothes for pupils at her school on her list. Such clothing banks, of which there are now around twenty, are supplied chiefly by parents who can afford it picking up extra items when they buy for their own children. More of these are needed, particularly in Glasgow, which Douglas (contactable at says would benefit from around twenty such organisations.

Laptops, tablets and phones

(£0 - £300)

The shelves of technology stores now jostle with back to school deals. Mumsnet - the online forum for mums - is littered with people asking whether their kids need laptops or tablets for the start of secondary school. A 2015 survey by uswitch - a price comparison service - astonishingly found that parents were sending their children back to school with £270 worth of gadgets in their backpacks. But is all this really necessary?

Last year Glasgow City Council issued guidance to head teachers not to set homework using computers so that poorer children would feel less stigmatised. CPAG’s Cost Of The School Day report advised: “Homework requiring computers, internet access, software and printers means that some children and young people struggle to access the resources needed to complete homework.” It observed, “Some children thought staff might assume they had computers and internet access - “they say, oh you have all these gadgets” (Boy, P7) - but 40 per cent of people in the Greater Glasgow area are still offline”.

Surprise costs


That CD from the special music project, the set of school photographs, the artwork created as part of a fundraiser, donations to a chosen charity – the school year is littered with unexpected, optional costs that can leave parents out of pocket, and struggling children feeling excluded.

Fancy dress

(£0 - £30)

Wee Callum wants to be the Cat In The Hat for World Book Day. Jenny wants to be Wonder Woman for Halloween. Are you going to get out the sewing box or fork out for the ready made costume from the supermarket? There are at least two times a year when almost every primary school child seems to be expected to turn out in fancy dress: Halloween and World Book Day. Then there are pyjama days, which currently really don’t require pyjamas, but onesies, preferably in the form of a Pokemon character. It all adds up.


(£20 - £200)

Stretch limos, suit hire, salon hair, the cost of the end of school party just seems to keep on escalating. Around 95% of British schools now hold a US style prom. A UK poll by online retailer Spartoo found that the average cost of a prom outfit is £102, with 14 per cent of parents shelling out three times that.

Equipment for outdoor activities

(£6 - £150)

Going on an outdoor residential trip, then get ready to fork out at least £40 for a pair of boots? And that's before you buy the waterproofs. Not everyone has the basics to cover being in the great outdoors. CPAG’s Cost Of The School Day report observes: “Residential trips require appropriate clothes for day and bedtime, toiletries, a bag, spending money...On one residential trip, some children brought sturdy outdoor shoes and outdoor clothes while others had no clothes to change with and duvets from home instead of the suggested £6 supermarket sleeping bag.”

Day tripping


It's a minimum of £8 to go to the pantomime, and £4.50 for the summer trip to the beach. While the day trips offered by schools are often subsidised they do still frequently come at a cost to parents, which can prove particularly challenging when they have multiple children to pay for.

Overseas School trips

(£0 - £1800)

Overseas school trips are perhaps the most fearsome cost that parents struggle with - and which, for the poorest seem forever beyond the realms of possibility – though many schools do their best to help worse off pupils. School trips away range from the residential outdoor learning trips most primary schools offer for P6s or P7s to, at Secondary School, trip-of-a-lifetime adventures in Africa. For the poorest families just getting a child passport - cost £46 - can prove prohibitive.

Top Edinburgh school James Gillespie’s, for instance, lists on its calendar from 2016/17 a trip to South Africa at £1800, a tour of the trenches in Belgium and France for £600, Catalonia for £650, and a modern studies trip to New York and Washington that comes in at £1600.

“What we’ve found,” says CPAG's Sara Spencer, “is that there are some children whose parents are never going to be able to afford to go on these trips and so they don’t go on these trips. So they aren’t getting the opportunities that wealthier children are getting. But pretty much every school we’ve worked with works really hard to try to find places and do something about this.”

In CPAG’s recent research in Dundee, the P7 residential trip was identified as the biggest cost of the year. “Costs ranged from £140- £290. Children spoke about missing the P7 trip because of cost. This also meant they missed out on the excitement in the run-up to the trip, opportunity to have new experiences and shared memories with their classmates.”

After school sports activities

(£0 - £300)

What you can expect to pay for after school sports activities varies hugely across the country. Alison Payne, Research Director at the think-tank Reform Scotland, has investigated the variation in costs for the Active Schools programme run by Scottish Government funded Sport Scotland, and delivered through different local authorities. The range was huge. “Glasgow’s were all free," she said, "whereas Edinburgh charges.” Among the more expensive classes were, for example, skiing courses for £45 in East Renfrewshire, and surfing in East Lothian for £40.

“We aren’t saying,” she says, “that all the activities should be free to everyone. Having a nominal cost to the kids is fine, but you also have to have provision to make it free for disadvantaged kids. What we felt is there’s a very easy way of managing it so that the disadvantaged kids get it for free. In the Edinburgh system, you pay online. You could apply a credit to those in receipt of free school meals, and give them preferential treatment, to try to insure that they get access.”

Music Tuition

(£0 - £316)

Free music tuition is gradually disappearing from schools in Scotland. Currently a post code lottery exists, in which some councils are charging eye-watering, yet still subsidised, fees for music lessons and other offer them free. Stirling council, for instance charges £258 for a year of tuition, with reduced fees of £66 per year for those on free school meals, Aberdeenshire council charges £316 a year for individual lessons. Yet Edinburgh Council offers free music tuition as does Glasgow City with its recently established free music4all programme. Of course some parents do, in any case, fork out for private lessons, which cost on average around £15 per half hour.

Earlier this year EIS, the teacher’s union, slammed the reduction in Instrumental Music Services across Scotland. General Secretary Larry Flanagan accused local authorities of delivering "the privatisation of instrumental music provision by stealth.”

Private Tutors

(£300 upwards)

Two years ago the Sutton Trust published a report on the rise in parents paying for tutoring in which it described "an escalating arms race in education", and in which the proportion of children in the UK getting private tuition had risen by a third over a decade, to 25%. Scotland, however, has far lower take-up of private tuition than any area in England. Tutors cost, on average, around £30 an hour.

After school care

(£2000 upwards)

According to The Family and Childcare trust, in Scotland parents of primary-school age children will pay an average of £55 a week for an after school club, or £62 for pick-up and afternoon care by a childminder.


(£380 upwards)

Primary school lunches cost around £2.00 per meal, while secondary school prices are slightly higher, at closer to £2.50. While Scotland does provide free school meals for P1-3, and worse off families, lunch is still a source of financial worry for many parents – and a way in which some children can feel excluded, particularly at secondary school level, when frequently children go out of school to buy their lunches.