By Ann Marie Foley - 28 August, 2019
For the third year in a row the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) has seen an increase in calls for help with back-to-school and education costs. The SVP took around 250 to 300 calls per day from worried parents last week.
That is an increase by 4 per cent this year following a 20 per cent increase in calls for help with education costs last year. The smaller rise this year suggests that the increase in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance in 2019 has lifted some of the pressure on struggling families.
However, with requests increasing again this year, the SVP called on the government to make school books free across all primary and secondary schools, begining with a €20 million investment in Budget 2020 to provide free books to all primary school children. The benefits of this to children cannot be underestimated, according to the SVP.
“We strongly believe that all children should have access to quality, free primary and secondary education,” said Kieran Stafford, SVP National President. “Access to education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, but if children don’t have the right materials for learning or if they feel different from their peers, that has a really big impact on their progression and experiences in school.”
A new trend with significant cost implications is the use of digital devices in schools. Traditionally the SVP received calls for help to pay for digital equipment for children with additional educational needs. However, more and more schools are switching from books to digital and this means parents have big up-front costs of between €500 and €800.
“In more recent times our members have noted an increase in requests from parents where the use and purchase of digital devices is mandatory. In most cases there is no financial support in place to help parents meet the costs of equipment and software,” said Kieran Stafford.
The SVP has asked the Department of Education and Skills to establish a working group to examine the use of digital devices in schools, including the cost impact on parents.
In 2017 the organisation spent €3.6 million on education, supporting children and young people at pre-school, primary, secondary and third level. It also supports people to access further education and training, second-chance education and lifelong learning.
Marcella Stakem, SVP Policy Officer, said: “Education is a powerful predictor of life chances in adulthood. If we really want all children and young people to have access to good opportunities, we have to stop making cost a barrier to participation.”
In a submission made last week to a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills, the SVP put forward several proposals that would relieve financial stress on parents.
It proposed actions including making all books free across all primary and secondary schools and ending voluntary contributions in all non-fee-paying primary and secondary schools. It suggests that if Budget 2020 were to restore capitation grants to 2010 levels this would be a good start.