Get ready for back-to-school

With only a few weeks left until the kids go back to school, we offer some top tips to help ensure you’re fully prepared…

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The start of a new academic year is particularly pricey as many parents need to send their offspring back to school with a new uniform and the latest equipment.

When you add up the money you spend on uniform, PE kit, stationery, transport, lunches, school trips, it can easily cost hundreds of pounds a year to educate a child in the local state school.

So here are some top ways to help bring those costs down…

School uniform

If your choice of supplier is not restricted, it could be worth heading to budget supermarkets Lidl and Aldi.

Both are both offering a (primary) school uniform of sweatshirt, two polo shirts and trousers or a skirt for under £4, which is roughly half the price of the cheapest deal at Tesco.

If your local store has sold out (unfortunately, once it's gone it's gone), or you don't have a Lidl or Aldi close by, most of the other major supermarkets also sell school uniform at decent prices.

Alternatively, you can rely on the old high-street favourites such as Marks & Spencer and John Lewis. Prices will be higher though, so remember to make the most of any loyalty schemes and check out the cost of delivery and returns if you shop online.

If you are seriously struggling to afford the uniform, many local education authorities provide grants towards the cost of school clothing. The eligibility criteria vary so you should contact your local authority for further information.

School bags

Bags can easily cost more than the uniform, especially if your child will only be seen with a certain brand. But it is possible to hunt down a bargain.

Argos is offering deals on school bags, including a Little Miss Chatty messenger bag at £4.99, down from £19.99. Or there’s a third off the Carbrini backpack, now £7.99.

Tesco is also offering cut-price bags. You can buy a Star Wars Urban backpack for £10, down from £15. Or how about a half-price grey and pink Paul Frank backpack at £12?

Shoes

School shoes can kick a hole in anyone’s budget – and they don’t always last long.

If you buy footwear from a shoe specialist such as Clarks, you can expect to pay £30-£35 for a pair of school shoes. However, the retailer is offering £5 off selected sports shoes when you buy a pair of children’s shoes.

Alternatively, if you’re lucky enough to live near a Clarks outlet store, you can pick up some great deals there.

School shoes are a bit cheaper at Marks & Spencer, at about £20. You can expect to pay around £12 at Matalan.

Or you can go to Aldi and buy a pair of shoes for £6.99.

Alternatively, if you spend more than £25 on school clothing online at Asda, you can save 20% on selected leather school shoes.

Stationery

If you’re looking to stock up on pens and pencil cases, Tesco is offering half-price deals on selected lines of stationery. And over at WHSmith, there is up to half price on filing items and three-for-two on essential pens.

The Works also has a range of offers including assorted A4 ring binders at £1 and a pack of 30 gel pens for £4.

Meanwhile, Amazon is promoting stationery with a pack of 24 Sharpie permanent markers down to £9.49 from £20.84, or you can pick up a pack of five PaperMate Flexigrip Ultra Ball Pens for just £2.50, down from £7.32.

School lunches

All children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 are entitled to free school meals, but if your child is older, you will have to pay for their lunch. The cost varies but the average school lunch is £2.50 a day per child.

If you’d prefer to save money and make up lunch boxes each day, Change4Life has some great ideas depending on the age of your children.

If you are on a low income it’s worth contacting the school or the local authority because education authorities are obliged to provide free school meals to children whose parents receive one of a number of benefits including Income Support and Universal Credit.

Transport

Many bus and train companies offer reduced fares for children, though the level of the discount varies according to the time of day and where you are in the UK.

Your children might also qualify for free transport to school, depending on how far they travel and if they have any special needs.

All children between 5 and 16 qualify for free school transport if they go to their nearest suitable school and live at least two miles away if they’re under eight years old, or three miles away if they’re eight or older.

The rules for families who receive the maximum Working Tax Credit or whose children receive free school meals are slightly different.

Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are also entitled to free transport if they can’t walk to school because of their SEND or mobility problem, no matter how far away they live. You can find out more details from your local council.

Music lessons

Most state schools offer individual or group tuition on a range of instruments. However, parents must usually pay for the lessons because they’re not delivered as part of the curriculum.

You can expect to pay between £15 and £20 for a 30-minute lesson, so make sure it’s an instrument your child really wants to learn. You might have to compromise if they want to learn more than one.

Households on a low income can get help towards the cost of instrumental tuition. You should contact the school for the criteria, but your child would usually have to be in Year 3 and above and in receipt of free school meals.

School outings

School trips can put a strain on any budget, especially if you have more than one child or the school organises several outings a year.

If the trip takes place during normal school hours, the school can technically ask only for a voluntary contribution. However, most parents feel under pressure to pay up, even if they can’t afford it.

For residential trips, you can easily end up paying close to £1,000 depending on the location and the type of activity involved.

Some schools offer financial assistance to parents who are struggling, but it’s not always easy to ask for help and the criteria can be strict.

One tactic might be to get as much advanced warning as possible of any trips scheduled for the year ahead, and start a savings kitty – preferably with the child chipping in small amounts if possible.

They key is to salt away small amounts on a regular basis, so there isn’t a sudden and painful need to find a hefty chunk of cash at short notice.

All prices were correct at the time of writing

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