The National Parent Survey 2023 revealed that the parents of 2.8m children are struggling to afford sending them to school

Mental health and wellbeing The cost of education Parents
04 December 2023
The National Parent Survey, conducted by YouGov on behalf of Parentkind, revealed that one in four parents are struggling with the everyday costs of sending their children to school, rising to half of parents with children entitled to free school meals.

In one of the largest surveys of parents in Britain, Parentkind found that even middle class families are now feeling the pinch with one in six families with household incomes over £70,000 struggling to meet school costs. 

The research revealed that 2.8 million children in the UK live in households where their parents are struggling to afford the cost of sending them to school with half of all parents citing uniforms (50%) and school trips (44%) as the biggest financial headache. 

The figures a much worse for parents with children entitled to free school meals, with almost two thirds (61%) concerned about the cost of uniforms and over half (52%) worrying about paying for school trips.

This survey is wake up call to schools and politicians around the country. The cost of living crisis is hitting more and more families, who used to have comfortable incomes but are now concerned about the cost of sending their children to school. Millions of children now face the grim reality of parents not able to buy new school uniform or the cost of school trips, covering the cost of school lunches is also a major worry for parents, especially those on the lowest incomes.

Jason Elsom, Chief Executive at Parentkind

Beyond the cost of living crisis, researchers found that almost 900,000 (875,000) primary school children don’t have enough age appropriate books at home with a reading crisis hitting some families. 

One in seven parents admit to reading to their primary aged children less than once a month with one in twenty reading to their primary age children less than twice a year, equivalent to 273,000 parents or at least one in every class. 

The study also found that almost 1 in 10 (9%) of parents have never turned up to a parents evening raising concerns that schools aren’t speaking to the parents who need the most help. 

Parents are pessimistic about the future, with just four in ten (41%) parents saying their children will have a better standard of living than them and fewer than half (48%) saying they think their children will have better career prospects. 

Mental health and wellbeing

Mental anguish is a major worry for the nation’s parents with shocking” levels of anxiety and depression reported by parents, particularly for parents with children at secondary school.

  • More than half of parents (51%) of secondary school children worry about the toll exams are taking on their children with 1 in 4 (25%) saying their children are suffering from depression.
  • Half (50%) of parents with teenage children worry about the time they spend on electronic devices with a quarter (24%) expressing fears their children have been subject to cyber bullying and online abuse. One in seven (15%) said their teenage children feel the pressure to live up to the expectations of social media influencers.
  • 1 in 10 parents say their teenage children are turning to self harm which could mean up to three quarters of a million (740,000) children are self harming.
  • 1 in 7 (14%) parents with children at secondary school say their child feels unsafe at school, including 1 in 25 (4%) parents who say their teenage children have been sexually harassed, equivalent to 363,000 children across the UK.

Learning at school

When it comes to support from schools for these issues, parents feel left to pick up the pieces by themselves.

  • Almost two thirds (62%) of parents with children at secondary school who said their child suffers from depression report being dissatisfied with the support offered by their child’s school or receiving no support at all.
  • A similar number of parents (63%) report being dissatisfied with the support received from their child’s school when it came to cyber bullying or online abuse.
  • 6 in 10 parents (61%) who report that their child has turned to self harm report being dissatisfied with support offered by their child’s secondary school or receiving no support at all.
  • Half of parents (51%) with a child at secondary school who has experienced sexual harassment report being dissatisfied with support offered by their school or receiving no support at all.

The National Parent Survey was conducted by YouGov in June this year. YouGov spoke to more than 5,000 parents across the UK making this one of the largest nationwide polls of parent opinion.

Our large scale survey also uncovered a major mental health and anxiety crisis in our schools, driven by exam stress and social media. In the worst cases there will be a child in every class hurting themselves deliberately. Parents think their children spend too much time on electronic devices and on social media. We need a more urgent national conversation about the impact social media is having on our young people.

Jason Elsom, Chief Executive at Parentkind


The National Parent Survey was conducted online by YouGov. The fieldwork took place 5th – 26th June amongst 5,126 parents in England (3,067), Scotland (1,032), Wales (768) and Northern Ireland (259) who have at least one child aged 4–18 in school. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK parents aged 18+. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. 

Analysis and reporting was carried out by Parentkind. In 2023 the entire sample was increased to a minimum of 5,000 from a previous count of 3,750, extending the sample size in Wales and including Scotland for the first time. 

Given the changes to the sample size and composition comparisons with previous years’ data are not possible. Margin of error: as the survey is not polling the entire population of parents in the UK, but rather a sample of the population, results are subject to a margin of error which is estimated to be between 0.5 and 2.5 percentage points for the whole sample. 

The exact margin of error varies with the proportion considered. This means that, if for instance, according to the survey 28% of respondents strongly agree that they would like to have a say on their children’s education at school level, in reality the proportion is likely to be between 25.5% and 30.5% (i.e. the margin of error would be +/-2.5%). Statistically significant differences in results for particular demographic sub-groups are mentioned in the report. 

Where we’ve made reference to pupil numbers in the report, these have been estimated using information on the total number of primary, secondary or all pupils in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland published by the respective national governments for academic year 2022/23. Where, for example, 20% of all parents reported that their child had experienced a particular issue, we have assumed that this would be true for 20% of all pupils.