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PARENTS must pay more than EUR1,000 EACH just to get their children back to school, a survey revealed yesterday.

Labour exposed the shocking cost of kitting kids out for the classroom - even before they open a textbook.

They showed how the families of Ireland's 780,000 pupils risk a mountain of debt for the sake of a decent education.

Education spokeswoman Jan O'Sullivan said: "The notion of free education is now just a myth. Parents are being crippled by the financial burden of just sending their children to school."

According to the survey, parents will be forced to cough up EUR1,020 for an average secondary school pupil.

Ms O'Sullivan also warned a lack of Government support means many parents will be unable to cope with the back to school strain.

She said: "We have been arguing for many years for a substantial increase in state support for families who have children going to school every September. The cost is simply exorbitant.

"We conducted this survey of the cost of returning to school to examine the deficiencies in those supports and allowances.

"While it focuses on initial costs we recognise there are many year-round costs which must also be met by parents.

"Clothing, footwear, books, voluntary contributions, levies and essential materials now leave a huge gap in the family budget.

"A St Vincent de Paul survey in 2003 found that inadequate income was the biggest headache for parents with children in education."

While clothing is the major burden, the survey also aimed to tackle deficits in the cost of books, administrative costs, voluntary contributions, school meals and on-going costs of education.

Ms O'Sullivan said: "Very often, only one local retailer stocks and sells the uniform for a school, which means they can charge whatever price they choose in the absence of competition. …