Not-for-profit offers welcome state schools’ relief to 74,000 underprivileged students

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

As CEO of the Victorian-based not-for-profit, State Schools’ Relief (SSR), Sue Karzis says she is driven by the stories the organisation hears – of families struggling to provide for their children.

“The feedback we receive is so positive and our help can be transformational and the difference between a student completing their education and falling between the cracks,” she told EducationDaily. “We are privileged to do the work that we do.”

That work, according to the data published in their latest annual Impact Report, includes supporting one in 10 Victorian state school students to access much-needed, essential school supplies, as well as other tools and resources that support better educational outcomes for disadvantaged school students in the state.

State Schools’ Relief was founded in 1930 and is the only organisation providing state-wide support to Victorian government schools. The organisation’s programs aim to ensure that every student can be fully prepared and ready to learn in the classroom, with an impact that offers benefits directly to students, but also to the families and schools that support those students.

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Affordable school uniforms help improve school attendance

The NFP’s flagship initiatives are the Affordable School Uniforms program and the Glasses for Kids program, with other essentials also available through their iPad and Travel Passes programs. Since 2016, SSR has serviced over 400,000 applications for support, supplied over 1.54 million individual items, and provided over $45 million of essentials at a fraction of the retail price.

In the 2022-23 period, SSR supported over 74,000 student applications, distributing more than 300,000 essential items valued at over $7.1 million to students in need, with the Affordable School Uniforms program reaching more than 1,300 schools across the state.

With projections showing that financial pressure is creating more need for support, Ms Karzis says some of the most immediate issues are simply having the funds to purchase shoes and uniforms – “some students have not been attending school due to not having these items”.

The impact of these efforts is significant:

  • 98 per cent of surveyed principals affirm the Affordable School Uniforms program significantly alleviates financial stress for families
  • 72 per cent reported improved student attendance
  • 78 per cent noted better engagement with learning after receiving support
  • Students also benefited with increased self-esteem and a sense of belonging
  • SSR accesses wholesale prices on uniform essentials, translating to an estimated $3.8 million dollar saving, compared with retail costs
  • The Travel Passes program distributed around 15,000 free travel passes to disadvantaged students, representing more than $1.3 million in travel saving

“Our report insights and feedback from schools confirm the hardships we help to alleviate for vulnerable children and families,” says Ms Karzis. “Our primary focus continues to be transforming students’ educational experiences and prospects.”

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But as families grapple with the rising cost of essentials, including food, healthcare, housing and transportation, Ms Karzis says school supplies become less affordable.

“This is especially true for socioeconomically disadvantaged families who are least prepared to handle the increasing prices of school essentials.”

The Impact Report shows some SSR initiatives, such as the Glasses for Kids program and social enterprise Student’s Choice are also expanding in reach.

In the 2022/23 financial year, Glasses for Kids conducted 2,900 free vision screenings, with a focus on early intervention, and supplied 1,400 pairs of glasses at no cost.  For the students receiving the glasses, the gift of vision reduces the risk of lifelong eye damage and enables greater opportunities to engage in their education.

Increasing demand for tech tools

“There is a need for devices such as laptops and iPads, which we were able to supply during COVID due to philanthropic funding but can no longer supply,” Ms Karzis told EducationDaily.

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For non-verbal students who rely on iPads to communicate, Ms Karzis says research shows access to these devices can increase learning potential, as well as important social skills. To access an iPad through the SSR program, allied health providers and school staff identify students at the state’s specialist schools, whose families or carers may be unable to access them. In the 2022/23 financial year, 452 Victorian students were assisted.

SSR also supports a Graphing Calculator Program, to provide specialised graphing calculators to secondary students completing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.

“Without a graphing calculator, many disadvantaged Victorian students are unable to participate fully in STEM subjects, which will not only limit their ability to perform at school, but also have the longer-term impact of reducing their ability to seek further education in these subjects, negatively impacting on employment and long-term quality of life as a result,” Ms Karzis told EducationDaily.

“The project is strongly aligned to Department of Education and Training priorities in relation to increasing participation in STEM subjects and improving overall levels of competency in these streams. The Federal Government has also indicated an increased focus on further education and employment in STEM fields.”

Social enterprise creates sustainable support – but more funding is needed

The Student’s Choice social enterprise retails uniform items and shoes to more than 50 schools across Victoria and generates profits that enhance SSR’s opportunities to offer support for students who need it most. generated profits to further enhance SSR’s work, retailing uniforms to over 50 schools across the state. It has steadily grown its range of items from uniforms to include workwear suited for VCE Vocational Major students.

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As the 2024 school year approaches, SSR plans to expand its reach for supporting disadvantaged students who rely on their assistance to fully participate in school without socio-economic barriers.

“To increase our reach for supporting children in need, we encourage people to donate via our website. State Schools’ Relief is committed to breaking the link between disadvantage and learning outcomes”.

Although cost-of-living pressures continue to have a stressful impact – including on many families who have not relied on relief programs before – Ms Karzis told EducationDaily that SSR will aim to have every application for support fulfilled – “that means increasing our fundraising efforts to ensure we can provide support”.

“Currently, 85 per cent of schools have received support from SSR in the last financial year, and we are aiming for that reach to expand to 90 per cent in the next 12 months. We are also hoping to grow our social enterprise, where SSR is a uniform supplier for a number of schools, as any revenue raised goes straight back into our charity to support those in need.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]