MOST parents struggle to meet their children's school costs, under pressure to fund trips and buy expensive uniforms, a report warned yesterday.
Some schools pester parents to make "voluntary" contributions towards their children's education, the charity Citizens Advice said.
And with uniforms reportedly costing up to 500, one in ten parents said associated expenses had influenced their choice of school.
The charity warned poorer families could find the cost of uniforms, photos and books too much to bear. David Harker, chief executive of Citizens Advice, called on ministers to take a tougher line with schools.
"Parents shouldn't have to spend sleepness nights worrying about how they are going to pay for what their child needs simply to go to school," he said.
"For many it doesn't feel like a 'free' education, it is hitting their budgets very hard and potentially having a direct impact on children's schooling.
"I am especially concerned about schools that put pressure on parents to make so-called 'voluntary' contributions." He added: "The government should take stronger action against schools to make uniform policies more realistic and affordable and should monitor schools to make sure they stick to the guidelines."
The report found a typical school uniform for a seven-year-old cost 14 from a supermarket, but 33 from a specialist supplier. This was based on buying two shirts, a jumper and a skirt.
For 11-year-olds starting secondary school, the cost of a uniform from a supermarket was typically 16 but specialist shops charged an average of 42.