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Cautious welcome for school cost reductions

By Ann Marie Foley - 20 April, 2017

Both the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) and Barnardos have welcomed moves to reduce school costs, but say the measures do not go far enough and families may still postpone paying bills or buying food to cover education costs.

SVP welcomed the decision by the Minister for Education Richard Bruton to require the school authorities to adopt “principles of cost-effective practice” across some key areas, but state that this will not fully ease the burden school places on parents.

“Cuts to the School Capitation Grant in recent years means schools are struggling to cover the day to day expenses. An increase in this grant will ultimately benefit parents and children,” stated SVP.

The charity has been campaigning for years for a reduction in costs of education, as many low income families simply cannot afford school books, uniforms and so-called ‘voluntary contributions’.

SVP welcomes practical options for parents such as waivers, staged payments for various costs, book rental schemes, generic uniform options and other parent-friendly approaches which are administered discreetly and confidentially. However, the charity stated that the cost of sending children to school “continues to place a very heavy burden on thousands of families already struggling on a low income”.

SVP members regularly visit families who put off paying bills, fall into debt or sacrifice spending on food and other essentials to cover school costs such as events, exams, curricular-based sport and music, trips and equipment.

Barnardos also welcomed Minister Bruton’s announcement to help reduce costs for uniforms and to stamp out the use of workbooks that cannot be reused by another child, but said these efforts do not go far enough.

June Tinsley, Head of Advocacy, Barnardos, said, “Today’s announcement that Minister Bruton is to issue a circular to schools to be mindful of costs on parents is completely insufficient and lacks any vision or recognition by the State that schools are totally underfunded.”

Barnardos has recommended that it would cost just €103.2m to guarantee a free primary education for all children in Ireland. This is an extra cost per pupil of €185.

“This investment would fulfil the Government’s Constitutional obligation to provide genuinely free primary education for all children. It would cover all school books, school transport fees, classroom resources fees, eliminate voluntary contribution fees and would restore the capitation grants to 2010 levels,” stated June Tinsley.

“We would urge the Minister to make the investments that are needed to truly ensure that schools can run appropriately and all pupils have what they need to learn without sending their parents into debt.”

A total of 1,475 parents responded to the Barnardos School Costs Survey 2016; 1,008 of these had children in primary schools and the remaining 467 had children in secondary. The survey showed that the cost to send a senior infants pupil to school is €340, a 4th class pupil is €395 and a 1st year secondary school pupil is €775.

The cost of clothing, footwear and books ranges from €215 to €260 in primary and €555 for secondary.

Minister Bruton’s circular will allow for clothing costs to be reduced by allowing parents to buy generic clothes and iron-on or sew-on school crests in place of buying more expensive branded items from designated suppliers.

The survey showed that the cost of school books ranges from €75 to €95 for primary pupils and €290 for secondary students in first year. The circular states that schools should provide a book rental scheme and ban the use of workbooks that cannot be reused.

The survey showed that two further payments that parents make are Classroom Resources and the so-called Voluntary Contribution. These range from €125 to €135 in primary and €220 for secondary. There were no proposals by the Minister on reducing these, but schools must publish information on how any such contributions are used.

The Minister has committed to the restoration of capitation payments, and such payments will be linked to how schools introduce the cost saving measures listed on the circular.

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