Time to take the pressure off parents and end educational inequality

03 Aug 2016 in Press Releases, Advocacy, Featured, Schools

“I have three children in non-fee paying schools. This year, the two in secondary both need tablets- €550 each plus e-books at €300 for one and Transition Year costs of €450 for the other. School bus costs €650 for the year. That's €2.5k. Uniforms, voluntary contribution, sundries and the primary school child will add another €1.5k. So, we're looking at €4k total for the free education of three kids. If I was a TD on a salary of €87k, this would amount to about one full month's take home pay. But I am not on a TD’s salary!”

Parent, Barnardos School Costs Survey 2016

Parents demand action from new government to reduce the burden of school costs, said Barnardos today. Launching the results of their annual School Costs Survey the children’s charity echoed this call, as they reveal the huge pressure parents face finding the cash to cover their children’s education.

Fergus Finlay, CEO, Barnardos, said, “We always imagine it’s the children dreading back to school time the most, but year after year it’s clear to Barnardos that parents are the ones suffering.

“This year nearly 1,500 parents took the Barnardos School Costs Survey. For the eleventh year in a row parents have opened up about their feelings of anger and frustration. They told us the lack of consistency in education costs is symptomatic of an education system which has inequality and unfairness at its core.

“They are frustrated by the injustice of different schools setting vastly different parameters, with some benefitting from school book rental schemes, minimal contributions and plain uniforms. Too many, however, face astronomical costs for fully crested uniforms, lengthy book lists and a huge lists of ‘extras’ including payments for stationery, arts materials, photocopying and school tours.”

“I paid over €100 for books and €45 voluntary contribution but my niece attending a nearby school is the same age and will get ALL of her books included in the €65 contribution her parents pay their school.  Why is there this variation to cover the same curriculum?” 

Parent, Barnardos School Costs Survey 2016

June Tinsley, Head of Advocacy, Barnardos added, “Parents are at the end of their tether trying to grapple with these costs, with over 10% having to take out loans or borrow from family and friends. The costs of books, reliance on workbooks and the high cost of crested uniforms is continuing to take its toll, while the pressure to pay ‘voluntary contributions’ remains.”

“Voluntary contributions should be exactly that - voluntary. The schools send out repeated letters stating how much each family has to pay, and pressurises parents to pay. My son's class was told to bring in hand sanitiser and washcloths as there was no soap available for the year in the boy’s toilet. So where do the voluntary contributions go if not toward basic necessities such as soap?!” Parent, Barnardos School Costs Survey 2016

Yet things could be different, as one parent outlined: 

“Our children's school handles this funding question very well, no uniform, book rental scheme, totally anonymous voluntary contribution scheme, no charity collections/events allowed in school for fear of strain it may put on families and reluctance to ask for money for once-off events etc. except one school tour. Only one fundraising activity held all year where the focus is on time committed rather than size of contribution and almost every school family helps out.” 

Parent, Barnardos School Costs Survey 2016


Ms Tinsley added, “However it’s not fair to expect schools to shoulder the burden either. They have faced cut after cut in recent years and many are struggling to make ends meet. It is the Department of Education and Skills, and ultimately the Government, which has the responsibility to deliver free education to all children in Ireland.”

Mr Finlay concluded, “When parents hear the Government mantra of ‘free education’ it’s an insult. They know education is far from free because they are the ones having to pay for it.

But the government has the power, the means and the opportunity in Budget 2017 to reduce the burden on parents.

“For just €103m it could provide all primary school books, remove the voluntary contribution, eliminate classroom resources fees, restore the capitation rates back to 2010 levels and provide free transport for those using the School Transport Scheme. This minimal investment would ensure a level playing field for all primary school pupils and substantially reduce the financial burden on parents. 

“We are approaching the first Budget of the new Partnership Government, an opportunity for them to show real commitment to making Ireland fairer for all children. The Government has already pledged to increase education spending by €500 million by 2021. Barnardos wants to see this spent efficiently and effectively to reduce the burden on parents. It is the Government’s responsibility to adequately fund education – not parents’.

“As a parent told us, ‘Our constitution states that all children have a right to free primary education, and this is simply not the case when parents are having to pay for textbooks and core lessons. It is NOT a free education system, and this is something the Minister for Education and Skills should address.’”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

Read our briefing paper School Costs Survey Briefing 2016 

Read our School Costs 2016 Factsheet

View our School Costs 2016 Infographic

“I am genuinely sick worrying how I am going to pay for back to school costs this year. All of our household bills are increasing, the only thing left to cut back on is food....We do try and save but it's just impossible in this society.”

Parent, Barnardos School Costs Survey 2016


Key findings

Average costs

Senior Infants pupil

4th Class pupil

1st Year Pupil

 

2015

2016

2015

2016

2015

2016

Clothing

€100

€95

€115

€105

€195

€200

Footwear

€50

€45

€55

€50

€60

€65

School Books

€80

€75

€90

€105

€325

€290

Classroom resources

€35

€40

€40

€40

€55

€70

Voluntary contribution

€100

€85

€90

€95

€150

€150

Total*

€365

€340

€390

€395

€785

€775

Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance

€100

€100

€200

 

Cost of genuinely free primary education

 

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


Key recommendation

Free education

  • Uphold a child’s constitutional right to free primary education by committing in Budget 2017 to invest the extra €103.2m annually required to make it reality for all children.
  • Commit to investing €126.9m annually to make secondary education free for all children within next three years.

Other recommendations

  • Issue a Department of Education directive on school uniform policy for all schools placing parameters on schools in determining their school uniform policy which ensure the most cost effective option is prioritised.
  • Restore the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance back to the 2010 level. This can be introduced incrementally with a first phase increase of €50 per child at a cost of €14m in Budget 2017. [1]
  • Synchronise the income thresholds so all family types and all those in receipt of Family Income Supplement are eligible for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.
  • Remove the 23% VAT applicable to e-textbooks.



[1] Minister for Social Protection (Leo Varadkar), Ceisteanna- Questions-  Dáil Éireann, vol.486, 28th  June 2016

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