Education costs parents at least £39 per week for secondary school kids

New analysis undertaken by the Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP) – for Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) – shows that parents typically need to find at least £39 per week for a child’s secondary school education and £19 for a primary-aged child.

Although education is free at the point of access, in reality the cost of uniform, learning materials, school trips, packed lunch and transport sets most parents back at least £39.01 per week, per secondary school child and £18.69 per primary child.  

The findings are based on the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) research programme, which since 2008 has set out what the public think is needed for a minimum socially acceptable living standard in the UK. The analysis focusing on education, costing-up what parents who took part in focus groups between 2012 and 2022 said children and their families need specifically to meet children’s minimum educational needs.

Excluding before and after-school childcare and household costs like printers, the research found the annual price tag for going to secondary school is £1,755.97 per child and £864.87 for a primary school child. That’s £18,345.85 for children to go through all 14 years of school.

UK annual school costs per child:


Primary School

Annual costs

Secondary school Annual costs




Uniform, kit, shoes and bags[1]



Packed lunches[2]






Enrichment e.g., trips and celebrations






Childcare (urban UK)



Household costs e.g., laptops and printer[4]




Uniform – including PE kit and school bags, costs most for parents of primary kids and comes second only to transport costs for secondary school children.   Food – with the minimum defined as a packed lunch – is the second biggest cost for parents of primary kids and is also a major weekly cost for secondary school families.

Parents of secondary school children need £279.76 per year for learning resources (including a  phone, calculator, pencil case, textbooks, revision guides, set texts and sometimes subject-specific resources such as ingredients and aprons for food and nutrition lessons, and contributions to materials for Design and Technology).  Essential trips and school activities set parents back about £160 per child per year.

While some families on the lowest incomes might get help with school costs, the support available varies substantially across the nations. Eligible low-income parents of primary children in England are paying nearly double (£30.85 per week) what equivalent families in Scotland pay (£16.46) for their children’s education for example.  

Child Poverty Action Group, who commissioned the analysis, are calling on all Governments across the UK to ensure all children have as a minimum:

Access to affordable school uniform with support available to those that need it.

Access to a free hot, balanced meal as part of the school day.

The opportunity to attend school residentials and all school trips that enhance learning, with no one missing out due to cost.

Access to free transport so that all children can get to and from school every day.

Access to a free curriculum with no hidden subject-related costs or charges.

Co-director of CRSP, Matt Padley, who undertook the analysis with fellow Co-Director Abigail Davis, said: “Our Minimum Income Standard research sets out what parents agree is needed as a minimum for children to be able to participate fully in school life.

“Having the resources at home necessary to do homework, having what’s needed to join a school sports team and go on educational school trips, having school uniform that fits – all of this comes at a cost, and not being able to do these things can have really damaging short and long term consequences for children.

In the current climate, with significant and persistent pressures on household finances, it is vital that we develop and implement policies and systems across the UK that support all young people to meet their basic educational needs, but beyond this enable them to thrive in education.”

Head of CPAG’s Cost of the School Day programme Kate Anstey said: “Parents are guilt-stricken when their kids are left out at school but when you can’t cover the electricity bill, how is a new PE kit affordable?

“Our research shows there’s a hefty and often hidden price tag for just the basic essentials needed for school.  For struggling families, it can feel more like pay-as-you-go than universal education.  It’s on each national government to intervene and ensure that every child has at the very least the essentials required to take part in school and learn.

“Without that intervention, the very idea of universal education and equal life chances for children is undermined.”

A short Child Poverty action Group Briefing on its school costs research, including cross-nation comparisons, is here.  A more detailed Briefing on the MIS findings and how minimum education needs are defined is here.


[1] The most recent MIS focus groups with parents were carried out in 2022, meaning the effects of the new uniform bill which requires schools to observe statutory guidance on uniform costs in England will not necessarily have been captured in the research given the time taken to implement new policies.

2 In research discussions, although many parents highlighted the benefits of hot school lunches and agreed these would be optimal, the groups concluded that a homemade packed lunch each day was sufficient as a minimum and meant parents can make sure they are giving their children something they like to eat. In this briefing, the costs outlined under ‘packed lunches’ also include the cost of a lunch box and water bottle.

3  This is based on the assumption that it is more likely that primary school children can walk to school, and where this isn’t possible, the cost of this travel would be covered by the family’s motoring budget, not education budget. As there are fewer secondary schools, secondary school pupils are more likely to have to travel further to reach their school, so the cost of a daily bus fare is included as a minimum.

4 Parents and careers in focus groups agreed children need access to technology at home, but these items can be shared between family members meaning the cost differs depending on household size. This is therefore an indicative cost, assuming the items are just being used by one child.


Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 23/72

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