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Teacher reports four brothers sharing one uniform as families struggle with back-to-school costs

There are kids with swimming pools and kids without shoes, a Masterton principal said today as he talked about the burden some families face with back-to-school costs.

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Solway Primary’s Mark Bridges talked to TVNZ1’s Breakfast about the stresses and strains of this time of year. Source: Breakfast

Solway Primary's Mark Bridges told TVNZ1's Breakfast there were families at his decile six school in a good financial position, but there were others who may struggle with the cost of uniforms, stationary and various activities this time of year.

"We have kids with swimming pools, we have kids with no shoes - so we have a full spectrum," he said.

"My job is not selling clothing - my job is to get kids at school. My job is to basically transform their lives so we do everything that we can to subtly take away those barriers."

Mr Bridges said teachers have even used money out of their own pockets to make student feel the same.

"We make sure every kid gets to camp, we make sure every kid has lunch, we make sure every kid has the same school uniform."

In his 25 years teaching, Mr Bridges said there was "no doubt" back to school was getting more expensive. He talked about rising rent prices, especially in Auckland, and said if families were moving a lot to find or or in different emergency housing the added costs of new school uniforms would add pressure to some families.

"It comes down to relationships. We have good relationships with families so we know in advance which families in our school are going to have a hard time getting to camp.

"I actually make applications for grants at the start of the year for kids that I expect later in the year won't be able to get to camp. I have teachers, who I call naughty, who put in from their own pocket and pay for camps, pay for lunches, pay for uniforms and things like that."

Mr Bridges said he'd be surprised if other schools didn't have teachers doing the same for struggling families.

"The reality is I don't know if I've met a teacher that does the job for the money. We're here for the kids. It's just who we are and what we do.

"We do what we need to do to get those kids to camp, get those kids to school, and yes, they're kids that we work with every day but we have a bond with them, they are our extended family. You do what you need to do."

Mr Bridges comments come as KidsCan reported that 47 more schools have put their hands up for help. The organisation now supports 787 schools nationwide.

KidsCan surveyed 210 teachers and principals who shared stories of life in their schools, including siblings sharing one uniform, a pair of shoes or a bus pass. 

“We had [four] boys attending on different days of the week and the excuse was illness...[It] turned out they only had one school shirt so they picked their favourite day of classes to come. Mum was too embarrassed to tell anyone," one teacher wrote.

"Some have to choose between feeding their children or stationery, and stationery will always lose," another said.

While another teacher wrote, "uniform shared between four siblings. One child attended a day. Tight on the oldest and loose on the youngest. Stationery non-existent."

KidsCan’s CEO and founder Julie Chapman said she was pleased with help from the organisation it meant students would be able to focus on learning and not cold or hungry. There had also been a reported boost in attendance with KidsCan's help.

“But this is not a milestone to be celebrated," she said. "It just highlights the level of hardship in New Zealand right now, and the enormous impact it’s having on our kids."