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State School Costs

By: Sarah O'Hara BA (hons) - Updated: 17 Oct 2019 | comments*Discuss
State School Costs School Uniforms

Although state school fees are free, there are still a number of costs you will incur if you have children of school age. It can help you with budgeting and financial planning to get an idea of these costs as early as possible. There is also help available to help you pay for some school costs, and it’s important to make sure you’re aware of what’s available, and what you might be entitled to.

Research conducted by Norwich Union showed that on average parents of state school children spend £14,000 per child between the ages of 5 and 16. This averages out at £1,300 per year per child. This article outlines some of the typical costs which make up these amounts and highlights the help you may be eligible to receive.

School Uniforms

Parents spend on average around £200 or more a year on school uniforms, including extras such as shoes and PE kits.

Most state schools have a school uniform, and this theoretically makes it cheaper and easier to dress children for school. Despite the fact that school authorities are instructed to keep costs in mind when setting uniform policies, some schools now specify a supplier where uniforms must be bought from. This can make uniforms more expensive, especially for items such as blazers.

If the school doesn’t specify a uniform supplier, and most don’t, there are now more options than ever to buy school uniforms on a budget. Many schools offer schemes where parents can buy secondhand uniforms, and many supermarkets are now offering basic school uniform items at rock bottom prices.

If you are claiming benefits or have a low income, you may be able to claim help from the government to pay for your child’s school uniform. You can find out more about this help and apply for it by contacting your Local Authority.

Feeding Your Child

At school your child will usually have the choice of bringing in a packed lunch, or purchasing a school dinner from the canteen. A minority of schools will allow older children to go out at lunch time to buy food, but this is increasingly uncommon, particularly with the current healthy eating drive.

School dinners cost between £1.50 and £2.00 per child per day. The recent government focus on preventing childhood obesity means that school meals are increasingly healthy.

Packed lunches can work out cheaper than school dinners and probably average out between £1.20 and £1.50 per day.

Your child may be eligible for a free school meal. Currently 14% of secondary and 17% of primary school children are eligible for free school meals. For advice and an application contact your Local Authority.

Find out if your child’s school is taking part in the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme. Pupils at participating schools (mostly primary) will receive a free piece of fruit or veg on school days.


If your child can’t walk to school because it’s too far, they will usually have to be driven or catch the bus.

Local Authorities provide free transport (usually buses) to ensure children can get to school. In order to qualify children must be aged between 5 and 16. They must attend the closest school to where they live and it must be further than the government’s ‘statutory walking distance’. This is two miles for children under eight, and three miles for the over eights.

Contact your Local Authority to claim this help.


There are often school trips planned for children each year. Some are educational and some are for fun, but the costs of trips to theme parks or local museums can seem a lot to families on a tight budget.

Schools can only ask for voluntary contribution from parents to pay for the costs of trips. If they have the money most parents are happy to pay. However, if you can’t afford to pay and the trip goes ahead, your child won’t be left behind. The school can often subsidise your child’s place.

Although state education is ‘free’, it’s important to be aware of the cost of the hidden extras, in order to budget accordingly. The help available should mean that no child’s education suffers because of lack of money.

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