By editor - 28 March, 2013
The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) spends €4-5million annually to help children and young people access education and training in Irish schools.
Statistics in the SVP Social Justice & Policy Submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection reveal that the highest spend by SVP for children in both primary and secondary level was for school books at €55,000 (26% of primary level spend) and €85,000 (38% of second level spend) respectively.
Those statistics based on a 2009 SVP snapshot survey also reveals that school uniforms were the second largest item of expenditure for SVP conferences at second level and voluntary contributions were significant for both primary and second level students.
“Despite schools being the recipient of a high proportion of public funds the Minister does not have the power to enforce changes which can make a huge difference to hard pressed parents. Reform of the accountability and governance structures (parents, schools, Department of Education) is clearly needed so that cost saving measures can be implemented which would quickly reduce costs to parents,” states SVP in its submission.
SVP has already recommended in previous publications and in this one that school uniform costs can be reduced for example by schools allowing a choice of generic track suits, jumpers, trousers and skirts and use of sew on badges.
From various data the charity estimates that the average annual cost for a primary school pupil is €338 and €781 for second level students. Concerns were expressed for pupils who live in disadvantaged households and who witness the stress of parents unable to meet the ongoing costs of schools.
The Minister for Education allocated €15 million in funding school books and SVP called for the establishment of compulsory school book rental schemes as they are as yet at the discretion of individual schools. In this submission SVP also expressed concern that the drivers of the technological advance are commercial profit focused companies. The charity called for the establishment of a Task Force to look into how ebooks, digital content and associated hardware can be accessed equitably by all pupils regardless of their means. SVP also called on the Minister for Education to secure licensing, pricing and regulation of digital content and hardware.
Apart from the basic uniforms and books requirements the so called ‘voluntary contributions’ are also causing anxiety for parents. SVP states that the cut in capitation rates to schools (0.5% in primary and 2% in secondary in Budget 2013) makes it harder for schools to meet their running costs so they ask for bigger voluntary contributions from hard pressed parents.
Another concern is the myriad of demands for money for activities such as sports, music, trips and fund raising events. Inability to pay for such ‘extras’ highlight the financial problems of some families and divide classes into the “haves” and “have-nots”.
“As long as many of the costs associated with school participation remain commoditised (ie can be bought as discretionary supplements) many children will be denied the opportunity to reach their educational potential and make a contribution to this society and economy,” the submission stated.
SVP asked that the Government makes the right choices to protect expenditure in the critical sphere of education and to ensure that those least able to make any more financial sacrifices are protected from further cuts to already diminished payments and services.
by Ann Marie Foley