Free Primary Education is a Myth but it could be a Reality

01 Sep 2016 in Press Releases, Advocacy, Featured, Schools

Barnardos is calling on the Government to fulfil its’ Constitutional obligation to make primary education free for all children. Barnardos hosted a seminar in Dublin this morning with leading education experts from Ireland and the UK in setting out the political and legal frameworks required to make free primary education a reality.

June Tinsley, Head of Advocacy, Barnardos, said, “It is almost fifty years to the day that then Minister for Education Donogh O’Malley announced the introduction of free education up to post primary level, yet as parents tell us each year education in Ireland is far from free. Half a century on from one of the boldest and most significant political education decisions it’s time for the Government to finally realise Irish children’s Constitutional right to free primary education.

“Barnardos has calculated it would cost just over €100 million to give all primary school children free textbooks and workbooks, remove need to pay for classroom resources and voluntary contributions, provide free transport for those availing of the School Transport Scheme and restore capitation rates back to 2010 levels. The impact of an inclusive, supportive education system reaches far beyond school grades. It means all children, regardless of their background are given the same opportunity to learn and thrive.

“We know from Northern Ireland and other UK jurisdictions how to implement a truly free primary education system; but what is needed now is the political leadership to make it happen.”

Fergus Finlay, CEO, Barnardos, said, “Barnardos has been running its School Costs Survey for over a decade. The evidence from parents clearly contradicts the persistent myth – that Ireland has free education. Fulfilling children's right to free primary education is the Constitutional responsibility of our Government, one they have shirked for too long. A right is not a right if you have to pay for it.

“The investment required is miniscule- just €185 per pupil per year- but the benefit to children and society would be immense. It’s a question of prioritising resources to get maximum affect. The first budget of the new Partnership Government will be published this autumn as Ireland firmly emerges from a bitter recession which has left one in nine children living in consistent poverty. Now is the time for this Government to take a bold move and make free primary education a reality.”

Note to editors

Banish the Back to School Blues: Making Primary Education Truly Free seminar took place on 1 September in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin 2.

Speakers included;

  • Fiona O’Loughlin TD, Chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills
  • Dr Patrick Walsh, Centre for Effective Education, Queens University Belfast
  • John Walshe, former advisor to Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn


Read our briefing paper Making Primary Education Free

See table below for a breakdown of costs

  Free School Books Removing Voluntary Contribution Free Classroom Resources Free School Transport Restoring Capitation Grant Level Total
2014/2015 Current Exchequer Funding €20m €0 €0 €163.5m €287m €470.5m
Additional cost to make Primary Education free €20m €42m €19.5m €5m €16.7m €103.2m
Additional cost to make Secondary Education free €20m €47m €19m €22.4m €18.5 €126.9m
Additional cost to make education free for all children €40m €89m €38.5m €27.4m €35.2m €230.1m