The reality of living in rip-off Ireland

This week we're continuing Stretched, our series on the cost of living in Ireland.

Today we looked at the education sector, specifically primary and secondary education. Parents are finding themselves under increased financial pressure due to the cost of school books, iPads, uniforms and school trips, as well as the voluntary contribution, which many people feel obliged to pay.

Irish Independent education correspondent Katharine Donnelly says, "Voluntary contributions haven't been done away with, but if parents feel they're being pressurised into paying them they can get in touch with the Department of Education. A lot of people don't know that it's voluntary."

Aine Lynch, CEO of the National Primary Parents Council, adds, "We did a survey and 65% of parents said they were asked for a voluntary contribution. Of those, 44% of parents said they did feel pressured to pay it."

"If the relationship between the school and the parent is a financial one, the stress and the pressure on the family increases."

Maria Doyle of the Irish Primary Principals Network says that primary education has always been under-funded: "The last thing we want is to be looking for extra funding but the sad reality is that, in a significant number of our primary schools, without the voluntary contribution schools wouldn't be able to run on a year to year basis."

When it comes to the cost of school books, Aine Lynch questions how many are actually essential for primary school children.

"We need to work out what their purpose is, and are there better ways of teaching children at primary level?"

Charlie Weston, Personal Finance Editor with the Irish Independent, doesn't think that iPads are always the best alternative to books, due to the high cost and the fact that many children find it more difficult to study using an iPad.

"It's very expensive and it's being reconsidered now by a lot of schools, who are going back to the books again."

Maria Doyle agrees that iPads can be just as expensive, if not more so, than books.

"While the concept is very good and they are used in a number of primary schools, we have to be careful about their use. It's not the answer to everything. They're the type of things that are putting pressure on funding in our primary schools."