Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien has said greater vision must be shown on the part of the government to reduce the costs of sending children to school.
Deputy O’Brien was speaking after presentations were made to the Committee from a number of groups that included the Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA), the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA), and the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) on the rising costs faced by parents when sending their children to school.
He continued: “Today’s presentations showed that there are relatively simple measures that can be introduced which would reduce the cost of sending a child to school.
“This year’s 3.5% reduction in the school capitation grant is having a serious impact on schools with parents often requested to make voluntary contributions that can amount to €130 on average per child. There is a direct correlation between the funding of schools and the costs borne by parents and the situation for chronically underfunded schools is set to worsen with further cuts likely over the next three years.
“As we face another €77 million being cut from next the education budget, we need now, more than ever, to be imaginative in how we implement policy.
“The CPSMA rightly point out that schools are treated like businesses and pay standing charges without availing of the advantages that businesses enjoy, for example, VAT cannot be offset against purchases.
“Paying for school books has serious implications for parents and a lack of regulation has made the situation worse. I believe there is a great deal of merit in the IVEA’s proposals to move to a school-centred purchasing system that should, because of economy of scale, reduce costs and make essential items such as text books and uniforms more affordable for individual parents.
“We need to do more to enforce regulation amongst publishers and it remains to be seen if the voluntary code of practise reduces the cost of school books.
“We also need to exam the viability of introducing eBooks to schools as a way of reducing the unit cost of books that the IVEA estimate costs on average €10 - €15.
“It is also important that Education Minister Ruairí Quinn do more than encourage school authorities to ensure that uniforms are available to parents in the most cost effective manner possible.
“A more formal mandatory code of practise is needed to prevent suppliers ripping off parents. It is simply not good enough that arrangements regarding the cost of school uniforms will have to be made between school authorities and parents without direction from the Minister and his Department.”