Wednesday, 6 November 2019
Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019: Committee Stage
Paul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 6, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:
“(4) (a) Schools shall, in addition to 27B (3)(g), provide to both parents and the Department of Education information relating to voluntary contributions, inclusive of the total monies collected annually, and a detailed expenditure of those monies by the school; and
(b) The Department of Education shall publish this information on the website, updating it on an annual basis.”.
I am delighted the Minister has just made the comment that the purpose of this Bill is to ensure that key information is given to parents. In that spirit, I hope he will be supporting this amendment, which seeks to regulate and collate data pertaining to voluntary contributions. I am sure the Minister would agree that is key information for parents. As matters currently stand, the Department has none of this data available to it. We think it is important it should have access to it and that it is published so we know how much is collected by schools on an annual basis. As the Minister knows, some schools are using these voluntary contributions to pay for basics such as light and heat due to under-funding via the capitation grants allocated to them. This is causing substantial pressure to be placed on parents, and students are suffering because of their parents' inability to pay.
It is a very practical amendment which addresses a data deficit that currently exists within the Department. We all know of the struggles of parents to pay voluntary contributions and, as someone with three teenagers going to school at present, I have first-hand knowledge of it. We all know that voluntary contributions, by their nature, are unjust but we know they are happening, we know they have been in place for a number of years and we know they are not going away any time soon, unfortunately. At the very least, we hope the Minister will agree that this charter should include a requirement for information on voluntary contributions for the sake of transparency for parents in particular, but also for the Department, so we can gauge each year what is the real deficit that schools are looking at in terms of being able to provide optimum supports to students and teachers alike. It is a very practical, simple, common sense amendment and I look forward to the Minister's response on the issue.