Families struggle to afford the rising cost of back-to-school requirements
Poor families are delaying sending their children back to school, as the total cost of 13 years' "free" education tops $35,000.
For children starting state school this year, the total cost, including fees, extracurricular activities, other necessities, transport and computers, by the time they finish year 13 in 2028 is estimated at $35,064 by education-focused savings trust Australian Scholarship Group.
That increases to $95,918 for a child at a state-integrated school, and $279,807 for private school.
Russell Dunn, deputy principal of Tamaki College in east Auckland, said some families delayed sending their children back to school at the start of term because of financial pressures.
"There are cases where students have started more than a month after their peers," he said. "This delay means the students miss out on all the orientation and team-building activities that take place at the start of the academic year.
"We find that they also have anxiety and stress issues, and struggle to fit in as social groups have already started to form."
The charity Variety, which runs the Kiwi Kid Sponsorship programme, currently helps 2100 children and their families, including 103 from Wellington, with money for such school staples as stationery, shoes and camp fees.
It has a waiting list of nearly 200 children whose caregivers have requested support. Seven of those are in Wellington.
One Wellington solo mother who receives help from Variety said the cost of sending her kids back to school meant the family missed out on other treats.
"I don't buy any treats in the groceries, like biscuits or chippies, and until stuff is paid off we can't go to the movies or go swimming.
"I have to rob Peter to pay Paul, and I have to juggle my wages all the time, but I don't want my kids to feel left out."
She has two children, 7 and 9, and also looks after her 9-year-old nephew. The past two years have been the worst, with the cost of iPads for the two older children added to stationery, books, shoes, new bags and school donations.
"It's getting worse because we need to provide an iPad. That's $949, whereas if I was just buying books for them it would maybe be $120 each."
The school insisted on Apple products, meaning other cheaper options could not be considered, she said.
"I had to make the decision not to send my kids on school swimming last year. I just couldn't afford it.
"But they have to cope with being the ones who get left behind at school. They really feel that. I feel that."
Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said there was an equity problem at schools, and technology had made it more noticeable.
Schools were finding it harder to cover the costs for the children who could not afford basics or extras.
Greens education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty said free education was a right, not a privilege, including the ability to access activities outside the classroom.
"These activities should not be a trip to Paris for those whose parents can afford it. This entrenches inequality when education is supposed to give everyone a fair go."
Education Minister Hekia Parata pointed out there was no charge for education at state schools. "No child in New Zealand should miss out on an education because of cost.
"The Government invests a huge amount in early childhood, primary and secondary education ... I know that the start of the school year is a challenge for some families, but schools know their communities well and work hard to avoid imposing costs on them that they cannot afford.
"In addition, a range of support is available from the Ministry of Social Development for beneficiaries who are finding the start of the school year a particular challenge. My advice to any parent who is worried about the cost of uniforms, stationery or other school equipment such as electronic devices is to talk to their schools, who often have arrangements in place to assist families who are struggling financially."
Variety chief executive Lorraine Taylor said its sponsorship programme was a tangible way in which people could make a difference.
Back-to-school costs made up about 40 per cent of what was given to children, she said.
VARIETY KIWI KID SPONSORSHIP
Variety chief executive Lorraine Taylor said its sponsorship programme, started three years ago, was a tangible way in which people could make a difference.
Back-to-school costs made up about 40 per cent of what was given to children. There were 1816 people signed up as sponsors, including 216 from Wellington.
It costs a minimum of $35 a month to sponsor a child, which provides essentials such as uniforms, stationery, basic clothing, shoes, bedding and extracurricular activities.
A caregiver requests funds for items, and Variety makes all payments directly to the supplier, so the money cannot used for other family bills.
Low-decile schools, social agencies and healthcare professionals can refer children to the programme.