Back to School Costs (a lot) - a Blog March.

I've recently joined the forthright and engaging group that is the Irish Parenting Bloggers and have decided to join them in a Blog March, which was instigated by Wholesome Ireland on the subject of 'Back to School Costs'.


Because I believe this is an area of great disparity and something that should be openly discussed. The findings of which could then perhaps be used in a discussion on a related topic?

So without further ado and for what it's worth, there now follows the cost of sending a Second Year student back to secondary school in the post-recession - as some would have you believe, or mid-recession as the rest of us know - year of 2013.

Statutory and 'Voluntary' Costs

Amenity charge of €170 to cover 24 hr personal injury insurance, photocopying, student journal, stationary, Parent's Council membership etc., etc.

A 'voluntary' charge which has been 'reduced' to €300 (per family). I always feel that's a tad unfair to one-child families, or those with children in different schools!

I understand the enormous costs to schools to continually provide a high standard of education to our children, especially with continued Government cutbacks to Capitation Grants etc. They must make up this shortfall somehow. Now I know we all laugh/groan at the 'Voluntary' title of this payment, however  it is voluntary. Some schools won't always spell it out but, if anyone genuinely has an inability to pay due to financial hardship then they should talk to their child's school.

Uniform Costs

The cost of 2 trousers, 2 shirts, 1 jumper with integrated crest (one size up that will do next year too) and a spare tie was €143. Note: As the more expensive school shop trousers are the best fit I have no choice but to buy them, besides I think it's worth it, in the long run, to buy good quality school clothes.) 

Thankfully I was spared the cost of the obligatory, crested school coat, which was only introduced last year.

The Obligatory, Crested School Coat

A number of secondary schools have introduced these in recent years, and at €55-€80 a pop they are expensive. As I intend for my boy to only need 2 of these in his secondary school years I am committed to piling books on his head, thereby stunting his growth in order to achieve this aim!

Introducing these extra costs at a time when most families are financially struggling seems to be a tad insensitive. However I will admit that it does look very smart and gives a professional look. It may even instill a sense of pride in the students? Well, in some students!

It also makes the student's school easily identifiable when they are traveling to and from school. When in school uniform, which clearly shows the name on their jackets, they are representing the school, in my opinion. Therefore any 'messing' or 'carrying on' - you know how teenagers are- will be answerable to their school principal ;-) The message in this house is 'if you wouldn't do it in school then don't do it travelling to and from school'. Or at home, for that matter!

Text Books

Most books were purchased last year but we still needed 3 more at a cost of €58.

I only now realise that the text books that were available on rental scheme last year, for subjects they had to make a choice on at the end of First Year, will now have to be purchased for this year. Estimated cost of these outstanding purchases, plus a couple of other books yet to be decided on, is €80.

If all books were available on a rental scheme it would be a lot cheaper.

The issue surrounding 'new editions' needs to be sorted out too. Some parents buy a brand new set of 'new edition' books for their First Year child, only to find that they are the same as the books their Fourth Year child is finished with. Such a waste.

Of course, if all students could swap their books for a digital schoolbag scheme, like in this Rush school  it would solve a lot of issues. We might even find that the term 'Free Downloadable Content' (DLC's to the uninitiated) could be applied to school books as well as to console games, thereby solving the 'new edition' issue!


Although I love a good bargain I always invest in a good pair of shoes every year, with the intention of them lasting him the whole twelve months. As my plan is working out so well I'm sticking to it! The cost of a pair of new school shoes for the coming school year was €60 (reduced from €70, so kind of a bargain!)


The one area I get to do some bargain shopping, in Heaton's Sportworld no less!

White soled/non marking runners are a non-negotiable requirement of most schools, especially if they have a brand new sports hall. The shoe section manager will tell you that it's a myth, all runners are non-marking. A bargain pair at €15 kept everyone happy!

Track suit bottoms and shin guards: €30.

T Shirt, sweatshirt and gear bag etc; all from last year.

As he will most probably need a new pair of football boots before the year is out (he doesn't play football outside of P.E.) I'm including an estimated cost of €30.

School Bag

Another area in which I'm prepared to spend money, in order to ultimately save it. Last year I purchased a supposedly good quality, sturdy bag at a cost of €40 that I intended to last him his secondary school years! The zips started to unravel by Christmas and the bag was totally unusable by May.

The school shop exchanged the bag, without question or receipt, for a slightly more expensive Jansport bag. Did you know that Jansport have a 30 year guarantee on their bags? Well, they do .... and it will most likely be put to good use in this house!

Copy Books and Incidentals.

Difficult to quantify. Some hardback copy books are required along with science and art books, geometry sets, padlock for locker (€18!) etc;

Therefore I'm including a very conservative estimate here of €50.

Plus the cost of locker hire at €20.

There are other costs during the school year with regard to sponsorship events, fundraising and school trips etc., etc.

Extra Curricular Activities.

As these are voluntary they cannot be included. I will say though, our school provides quite an extensive range of these activities at a reasonable cost. Some of them are even free.

I will also point out that for some students with additional needs, such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ASD and Aspergers (for example), some of these activities (e.g. swimming, martial arts and drama) are, quite frankly, surrogate occupational and speech therapies. Therapies that are extremely difficult to get from the HSE, for this age group.

To conclude: the 'Back to School Costs' for a Second Year student in 2013 amounts to €956, plus incidentals.

The costs last year were approximately €1100.

Child Benefit for a one child family for 2013 is €1560.

Therefore it is safe to say that approximately 61% (plus the cost of incidentals and beneficial extra-curricular activities) of Child Benefit is required to pay for 'free' education for a secondary school going child in Ireland.

So, Dear Government Ministers (past, present and future) and any Michael O'Leary supporters out there, the next time you want to threaten discuss any cuts to Child Benefit, I will stand tall and shout from the highest rooftop:

                                               HANDS OFF OUR CHILD BENEFIT.


If you'd like to read what all the other participants in this blog march have to say on this issue then please, click on the links below:

Sunday, 25th August: The Clothesline – It All Adds Up

Monday, 26th August: The Mama’s Hip – Homeschooling haul and chatter

Monday, 26th August: Awfully Chipper – Back to school in America
Tuesday, 27th August: Learner Mama – Back to school – A costly business
Tuesday, 27th August: Office Mum – School Costs & The Double Income Contradicton
Tuesday, 27th August: Musings And Chatterings – Crests and costs – starting big school part 1
Wednesday, 28th August: Serious Wagon – Back to School Costs
Wednesday, 28th August: Dreaming Aloud – Changing Gear
Thursday, 29th August: My Country Girl Ramblings – Back to School The Hidden Costs


The (not so) Invisible Mum and the Man Period.....

It's been another hectic week around here as I keep myself busy with all the various projects I have going on in my head whilst the countdown to going  'Back to School' begins in earnest  

The week of sailing school was ultimately fun but very exhausting. Getting a tired and reluctant teen out of the house on time every morning was a 'challenge', to say the least. However it did  get the idea of getting up early - and all that entails - firmly  re-planted in psyches in this house. And it also reminded me of my 'Jazzy's Revenge' plot I previously mentioned ;-)

However, perhaps I do need to 'calm down' and 'stop going on' ? After all that tired, cranky and downright challenging early morning behaviour exhibited by your teenage boy may not quite what it seems you know. Apparently it's a proper diagnosed condition..... known as a 'Man Period'. 

It's always good to know that an hilarious Wii Boy can grow up to be a smart-ass-funny Teen Boy, isn't it?! Not quite sure how the new story would translate into acceptable script-like posts though!

At this point it would be nice if I could post a lovely photo of a dashing Teen Boy rowing with a paddle or working a tiller with his team-mates in a little boat, sailing on the shimmering waters of the picturesque harbour, wouldn't it? Unfortunately that's not possible, banned as I was from being anywhere near him and his team mates. I did try, but got an ear bashing for my troubles. So not cool to have your mum nearby I guess...

I'm sure if I could manage to make myself invisible at all drop off and pick up times for school and camps etc; that would be preferable too. 'Invisible Mum' to the rescue, type of thing. Or maybe I'll just be invisible in my absence instead..... there's always nearby public transport you know ;-)

My 'various projects' I mention above sees me wearing many different hats these days, some invisible and some not so, as I dip my fingers into many different pies; more of which anon. It's good to be busy and to keep your Desperate Housewife brain active, I always say.

I must admit that sometimes it is good to be invisible. I like to fool myself that I'm shrouded in an invisible cloak when I'm blogging. I know it's not quite true as most of my readers know who I am but I like to pretend it is so!

I guess Blog Awards Ireland has the capability of blowing anyone's invisibility away but I am so glad that it exists. For a small country there are lots of Irish bloggers, as the nominations for the 2013 awards reveals. Kudos to the organisers for setting this up last year and for giving Irish bloggers a platform. Next thing you know there'll be annual  blog camps for us all to meet up, have workshops and to share tips!

It is such an honour when someone nominates your blog in these awards and I am so grateful to be there in two categories. I may go no further in the process but I really appreciate being included at all.

It is one thing for someone to go to the trouble of nominating your blog but quite another to take the time to put forward a particular post that you've written into the 'Best Blog Post category'. That someone has done so for me this year for my Full Circle post, is very humbling. 

I would prefer to say nothing about the awards at this early stage but as this category is a weekly public voting one I kinda have to. And I really, really hate doing this.....

So now I transform into very visible X-Factor mode and ask in a pleading voice, with batting eyelashes to 'please vote for me by clicking on Jazzygal in this link and hitting 'vote' at the end'!! If you can.

Thank you!

The very best of good luck wishes to all nominees, especially my good friend Looking for Blue Sky , Magnumlady, and all the parents in the Irish Parenting Bloggers Group who are well represented this year!

There's lots of good reading in the above link, make yourself a cuppa and go have a look :-)


Back to School Tips

It seems like only yesterday, when the daunting thoughts of three long months off school had me in a tizzy; and now, just like that, it's all but over.

Of course, now that it's over it seems like it all floated effortlessly on by, and all thoughts of any  teenage/parental angst are nowt but mere illusions.

Now that the teen boy is doing a sailing camp this week, giving him a reminder taste of the early morning risings and the long days ahead, I'm seeing some time ahead for me too. More time for blogging perhaps?

I've also had time to consider the things I've learned, or happened across on my journey, that may help make surviving secondary school possible! I will stress that very few of the following tips have been tried and tested by us, but you may find them helpful. Some were 'taught' to me along the way and others I've included for my benefit. And no, I won't be revealing which is which!

*Buy the school books early on and let your child look through them in advance of  going back to school, to help familiarise them and get them back into 'school mode.'
Try to get your child to do some school work during the holidays, such as some basic maths from going through the above books, some writing and laptop typing. The latter can be turned into a fun project of their choosing. The very best of luck with this one!
*There's nothing like getting 'new stuff' to help your child get used to the idea of going 'back to school' , so bring him/her with you when shopping for uniforms, copybooks, instruments etc. 

*If starting secondary school for the first time arrange with the school to have a tour just before school re-opens. Most schools are open the week beforehand and will be happy to organise this for you.

*If your child has sensory issues wash the new uniform a few times, ensuring to include lots of  fabric softener and finish off the drying process in the dryer, in the hope of making it more 'wearable' for when school starts!

*Label absolutely everything, including pencil cases and instruments, especially for secondary school as the children move around a lot and often leave things behind, sometimes in the strangest of places!
*You can request level specific lockers in writing with some schools. Note: lower level not as ideal as it may sound! Get one of those stretchy key rings which your child can attach to his/her trousers or skirt. Also get 2 copies of the locker key; leave one in an envelope with your child's name on it with the Deputy Principal and keep the other at home. Combination locks are another idea but can lead to problems of their own... teenagers are very good at figuring out combinations ;-)

*Consider introducing a colour-coding system for text and copy books for each subject. Some people completely cover the books with paper in the chosen subject colour, others just put coloured stickers on the spines. You can also use clear see-through plastic folders for each subject if that further helps with organisation. Involve your child in this activity, let him/her choose the colours or what system, if any, he wants ;-)
*A see through pencil case can be a helpful organisation tool too. Make sure to have plenty of spare pens, pencils, rubbers, copy books etc at home.
*A whiteboard at home is a good idea to clearly display daily timetables and activities which can be colour-coded to match the school books. Again, involve your child in this. Alternatively you could re-type the class timetable on A4 paper, colour code it and have copies in your child's room, in their bag and one for inside their locker. You can of course use their interest in technology and use their iTouch/iPad or laptop (if they have one.)
*Keep the homework area clear of all clutter, removing all distractions such as toys, all gaming screens (including  Xboxes!) and even  patterned tablecloths. Perhaps have a basket or see-through storage box for books nearby? It's also advisable, they say, to have a second set of books for home. If your child has a diagnosis Folens  may arrange for you to get, via your child's school, a copy of texts books already purchased from them, in CD-ROM format. They have ebooks now too so do give them a call. Good luck with this one too!
*Designate a 'go-to' place in the house where your child can drop his/her school bag on return from school each day, and return to later on to organise it for the following day. A rather helpful suggestion I read was a plastic box on the floor for the bag with a shelf above for books, lunchbox etc; and a hook overhead for his/her coat.
*If your child has a diagnosis and is getting resource hours you will need to consider whether or not to inform all teachers. This is a difficult one as you don't want your child to stand out or to be seen to be 'treated differently' - nor do you want to stand out as being the 'molly-coddling mum' ;-) Discuss this with the school's Special Needs Coordinator and consider any advice given by your educational psychologist. A solution may be to simply choose the main issues you think may manifest and let that discreetly circulate. Remember, your child's teachers have lots of pupils so they may miss any signs.... or mis-judge. 
Small group resource hours can be very effective in making a teen realise that they are not the only one getting 'extra help' - and can also gently encourage friendships.
If you think your child may need a just-in-case 'go-to' person/teacher during the day then liaise with his/her Year Head who may be a helpful resource in this regard. Also, find and locate a nice approachable  teacher - try a resource teacher - as a discreet 'go-to' person for yourself too ;-)
*While secondary school teachers put a lot of effort into helping First Year students settle in, they do not molly coddle or lead them by the hand! This is not primary school and is something your child will most likely pick up on pretty quickly! And if  your child is out sick the onus is on him/her to catch up.
*There are lots of changes for the First Year Student to adapt to and one of them is studying for end-of-term exams. They really don't know where to begin in this regard, bless them! Luckily most of the text books are very well laid out, with revision questions built in to each chapter. You could offer to be a 'study buddy' for your child - if he/she will allow it - and quiz him/her at the end of each studied chapter. I see that Tesco have Study Cards on offer at the moment which may be helpful?
*Consider some extra-curricular activities, especially some that are school-based, to help with socialising and becoming part of a school team, and the school community in general. It doesn't have to be team-sport based. Perhaps archery, chess, golf or drama would suit? Martial arts, swimming or scouts outside of school can be wonderful activities too.
*A summer camp the last week before school starts can be very helpful in getting the early night and early rising routines back into place - it will help your child too! Do try to make sure you've bought all the necessary back-to-school items - like school shoes for example - before hand though..... Sigh. 
If your child loves his/her technology you can always put that to good use in encouraging time management skills. iPads have alarm clocks you know ;-)
*The nicest piece of advice I've read is to talk through going back to school with your child and to listen to their thoughts and concerns.

Remember, your teenager also wants to be one of the gang and to not stand out. They want to invoke their new found independent skills. They may not want you any where near, let alone in, the school or talking to any of their teachers. Unless of course they suddenly explicitly request you to do so - and then you'd best hop to it!

So, be ready to discard all of the above and any other plans you are considering, and to listen to your child. Be prepared to let.them.go. It seems that our job as parents is to stay a discreet two steps behind our teenagers as they independently lead the way. While simultaneously - and invisibly - being at least one step ahead, to gently nudge them back on track should they stumble along the way.

If you figure out how to achieve this then please, do tell!

The above list is not exhaustive so if you have any other suggestions to add then, please feel free to do so in the comments below.

 I know a few children starting secondary school this year, especially one special cool dude, and another certain young man starting Second Year!

You know, they grow up so much during the summer break .... and sometimes they just surprise us.

The very best of  luck to you and your child for the coming school year.


Note: If you're just behind us on the 'Road to Secondary' you might find my previous posts on choosing a school here and on the questions you might ask when choosing here helpful. Good luck! 

The Adventures of Jazzy: The Road Trip....

As the summer school holidays roll on, and on, and on, I actively pursue my Summer Bucket List, in a desperate effort to be inventive in getting us out and about when possible.

Be assured though, dear readers, I haven't fallen off the edge of the earth, or the blogosphere. You'd be forgiven for thinking that I had. Instead I took us on a road trip, to almost the very tip of Ireland.

At the beginning of the school holidays I asked Teen Boy was there anything in particular he'd like to do this year and he mentioned the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. Now, me not being one to deny a child his interest in geography and geology I put that trip at the very  top of my list. In order to also encourage his love of history I threw in a visit to the Titanic Experience in Belfast for good measure, and I organised some company for us both. This educational stuff is all very admirable and all that but there's nothing wrong in ensuring I have company  to share a much needed glass of wine with at the end of a busy day touring now is there? He of course was delighted with the trip and the companionship of his friend.

It was a wonderful trip with stunning views, but as it involved me it couldn't go perfectly smoothly now could it? You'd be disappointed if I didn't have a drama or two to share, now wouldn't you? Go on, be honest!

Oh yes, it all started with the night before the road trip. The sleepless night before the road trip that was to require 5 hours of driving. Despite trying numerous methods to get myself to sleep I lay awake the whole night long. I even tweeted some #SleeplessInDublin tweets to amuse myself but nobody kept me company. All normal people with minds that have an off-switch were asleep you see.

We were up bright and early the next morning, I donned my 'can-do' attitude, had a fortifying breakfast of porridge and Red Bull and took to the long, long road up north. With my Teen Boy, who had a full night's sleep it must be said, snoring on his pillow for the 2 hours it took to get to Belfast!

The Titanic Experience was well worth the Red Bull fuelled trip, which saw me get only slightly lost once. Don't worry though, I more than made up for that later on.

The exhibition is housed in a very impressive building in the beautifully scenic Docklands area, on the slipways where the Titanic was built, and has 9 'rooms'  to wander through.

It's not just the story of the Titanic, it includes the lifestyles of the times too and the workers who helped build the iconic ship. I particularly loved the backdrop scenes of old Belfast with the silhouettes of passers-by - very effective - and the mock up of the rooms and the china used on board the ship .

 The accounts of the sinking, recorded by actors, and the tales of the aftermath were interesting too. Well worth a visit.

After some lunch it was time to undertake the supposed hour and a half's drive to the lovely seaside town of Portrush, with the boys deciding to travel in one car - which left me alone in mine. No bother at all....

And that's where it all went horribly hilariously wrong!

Although I managed to get out of Belfast okay I went disastrously wrong shortly thereafter, simply because I didn't trust the directions. I knew when I saw the signs for the George Best Airport that I had gone very wrong indeed! How on earth did I end up anywhere near there??!! I made my first of what was to be many stops for directions. If the very helpful guy in the Tesco garage only knew how close the crazy calm  lady desperately gently asking for directions was to falling apart and wailing like a 2 year old, who'd lost all members of her family and was left abandoned on the side of a motorway! Or maybe he did and that's why he was so nice....

Anyway, I eventually got back on the right road, going in the right direction, and all was well for a while. Until I hit not one, but two detours which saw me take a very unplanned and protracted, scenic tour of Northern Ireland, doubling the travel time.

Can't you just picture it? There I was - #SleeplessInDublin, #AbandonedInBelfast and #UtterlyLostInUlster, trailing around the many lonely by-roads. A woman, driving alone. In Ulster. In a Dublin registered car!

There was a time, not so long ago, when that would have been quite a problem. But not that day. I met some very nice helpful people on my solo journey that day and eventually happened upon the Portrush roundabout. If it were at all possible to hug a roundabout I would have stopped to do so.

The others had a similar experience on their journey, which us two mums laughed about that night over a well deserved glass of wine. I just knew that inviting company was a good idea ;-)

The next day we had the pleasure of visiting the absolutely stunning World Heritage Site that is the Giant's Causeway. I highly recommend going via the Visitors Centre (see previous link) as the £21 family entrance fee includes a guided walking tour which was very informative and enjoyable.

Oh, it was amazing ... stunning....

After going back the long way, climbing 162 steps, we then headed off to climb even more steps before braving the Carrick-a Rede rope bridge. Which, as you can see, was well worth the climb and the panic-inducing risking of  life and limb for the stunning views....

It was truly an amazing trip, we were so very glad that we did it.

We arrived home a couple of days later tired and in awe, with highly toned thigh and calf muscles and with firm resolutions to go see a tentative Irish World Heritage Site next year ;-)

I am already  fiercely studying road maps in preparation....


Sunday Serenity

Not a sound on the beach
But the crunching of my feet
And the gentle sound of the tumbling waves.

The white bird glides over the shimmering evening waters
I stroll the deserted stony beach.

Calmness seeps through to my very being
Equilibrium is restored
For the busy week ahead.


The Rainy Day

After weeks of glorious sunshine, with days spent languishing lazily on the sun lounger - in between minor bouts of minimal mummy-jobs - yesterday dawned with dull, grey clouds and the pitter-patter of insistent raindrops.

I listen to the gushing rain falling all around then promptly declare today a 'screen-day', to such delight that sees me smothered in massive, animated and purposely exaggerated teenage hugs.

Nothing for it but to join in and swap my sun lounger for comfy couch, to lay with my page-turner of  a book, listening to the entrancing sound of musical raindrops.

I listen as it pings and bounces off garden pots and picnic tables and hear the tympanic resonations as it pounds ours and our neighbours slated and corrugated shed roofs.

I absorb the sound of the rain rebounding off the glass wall that is my patio door and the skylight windows above me - my windows to many sky delights.

Beyond the majestic, green tree-tops that rise behind our garden, a lone horse can be heard neighing - whether in delight or dissent one cannot be entirely sure.

I watch silently as the rain hits the ground outside, almost springing back up before it finally forms swirl puddles in any nook it finds.

I imagine that the grass looks greener with every raindrop that falls on each parched blade and can almost see the plants spring back with renewed energy that had been drained by the sun.

I watch our poor, almost dessicated tomato plants that adore the sun but also require watering and hope that this rainfall will re-energise and help it's flowering buds to crop.

It is a pleasant day despite because of the rain as we all relax in our own peaceful way......

I remain in my cocoon on one end of the couch, now alternating between some calming crochet and some not-so calming candy crushing, Pretty Cat is contented nestling in her cocoon at the other end while Teen Boy wallows in screen heaven in his haven upstairs.

All is good in our world ..... while outside the rain still persistently falls.

Although we personally know only too well the mayhem that persistent rain can cause I acknowledge how comforting the hypnotic sound is to a busy mind.

So now another day has dawned and although it's a dull day again today, there is nowt but intermittent misty rain to lay entranced to.

There is no excuse not to shake off the lingering lethargy, wrap up and get out there for a walk or cycle.

Just give me a minute first though to get up off my comfy couch........ it may take a while ;-)


NOTE: The page-turner I link to above is the brilliant thriller 'Red Ribbons' by Irish Author Louise Phillips.