Families worried they can’t afford back-to-school essentials

AS students head into the new school year, thousands of Australian children are at risk of missing out on essential items for learning, including digital devices, internet access, and uniforms and shoes, according to national children’s education charity, The Smith Family.

An annual survey of over 2,200 families supported by the charity found that:

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– Nearly nine out of ten respondents (88.3%) are worried to some degree about being able to afford all the things their children will need for school in 2024.

– Of these, three in ten (30 percent) are very worried and three in ten (31.7 percent) are somewhat worried.

– Around half of the survey respondents (51.2 percent) think their children are likely to miss out on the digital devices needed for their schoolwork because they won’t be able to afford them.

– One in six (16.6 percent) think their children will miss out on internet access for schoolwork.

– Nearly half (45.6 percent) think their children will miss out on uniforms or shoes for school.

– Four in ten (40.6 percent) think their children will miss out on educational activities outside of school.

– One in three (32 percent) think their children will miss out on school excursions.

This is the second consecutive year that the survey has found concerns about affordability of school items (87.1 percent in 2023).

CEO of The Smith Family, Doug Taylor, said it’s reflective of the impact of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

“The families we support make impossible decisions every day about how to prioritise the limited resources they have.

“Housing, food, and power are top of the list, but the cost of these essentials have all risen rapidly, meaning educational essentials like uniforms, books, a laptop and the internet are increasingly hard to afford.”

Doug Taylor said one of the most concerning findings is that half the respondents said their children are likely to miss out on digital devices.

“Laptops and the internet are as essential as pens and paper in the 21 st century classroom.

“Without them, students will struggle to do their schoolwork and keep up with their peers.

“Every Australian would agree that all children should have the same opportunities as their peers at school, so they can achieve their potential.”

The cost of living was a major theme in the survey, with respondents saying price increases are putting pressure on their ability to pay for their child’s school essentials.

Of the respondents, 45.6 percent said they feared their children were likely to miss out on basics like uniforms and shoes, up from 29.7 percent in 2023.

“Everything has gone up with the cost of living,” one respondent said.

“It has been difficult trying to juggle transport to and from school and other commitments he (my son) has.

“As an aspiring athlete, his schedule has been a lot to manage both physically and financially as a single parent.”

Another said their hope for the new school year was for their child to have “all the material they would require, and to not have to worry about money”.

To help meet this growing need, The Smith Family is launching its Back to School Appeal, calling on Australians to sponsor a child to help them thrive at school and beyond.

The charity wants to find 6,700 new sponsors for its Learning for Life education support program, which
provides financial, emotional and practical support for students experiencing disadvantage.

This support lasts for a child’s entire educational journey.

The Smith Family has also committed to growing the program, and ensuring every student has all their school essentials, including a device and internet access by 2027.

“We are aiming to grow the reach of our sponsorship program from 62,000 to 100,000 by 2027, so even more of the one in six young Australians living below the poverty line today can receive this support and be empowered to engage in their education – however we can only do this with help from the Australian community.”

Doug Taylor said sponsorship isn’t just about financial and practical support, but about helping children feel like they are important and belong.

“Learning for Life, which is enabled by generous Australians, is a game changer; it means that every child we help can access what they need to make the most of their education.

“Things like a new school uniform and laptop can make children feel like they are a part of a school, so does the ability to take part in school excursions, sporting teams, or take music lessons – all of which increases a child’s confidence and self-belief.”

“Our research shows that 85 percent of students on our support program who were in Year 12 in 2020 were in education, employment, or training two and a half years after leaving school, so we know our program has a long-term positive impact.”

Students on the Learning for Life program also have access to a range of proven numeracy, reading, digital literacy and mentoring programs, so they can build essential skills while also helping to increase their aspirations and reach their potential.

“The long-term support we provide is so important.

“Research shows that children who start school behind are, on average, four years behind in maths and more than five years behind in reading by the time they reach Year 9.

“Our support starts early and lasts until that child has finished their education.

“This gives them the tools and resources they need to keep up with their peers, complete their education and go on to further study or work,” Mr Taylor said.

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