Tuesday, 15 November 2016
Department of Education and Skills
263. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the action he will take to address the disparity in school costs which exist from school to school here and the inequality faced by parents by providing funding for a free primary education system as costed by a charity (details supplied). [34897/16]
I am aware of the report referred to by the Deputy.
I strongly support any measures that can be put in place to reduce costs for parents.
All schools must be sensitive to the financial pressures on parents in making decisions, not just about school uniforms or books, but about any matter that has cost implications for parents.
The Action Plan for Education outlines hundreds of actions to be implemented over the 3 year period 2016 to 2019. Some of the actions as part of the plan are to strengthen the focus on reducing school costs for parents by:
- restoring capitation funding over a three-year period as resources permit
- Increasing the financial support for book rental schemes, in order to reduce or eliminate school book costs for parents
- Issuing a new circular to school authorities and ETBs regarding school uniform policy and other costs and the need to put a greater emphasis on reducing the cost of school uniforms and other costs.
Budget 2017 represents the start of a major programme of reinvestment in education, and the first phase of implementation of the Action Plan for Education, aimed at becoming the best education system in Europe within a decade.
It was not possible to provide additional funding in Budget 2017 in relation to this element of the Action Plan due to the many competing demands for the available funding. However, this commitment remains a priority for me to address as soon as possible during the lifetime of the Action Plan. It is important to note that the total allocation to this Department for additional policy measures, after demographics and Industrial Relations commitments, was €130 million and of which all our commitments in higher and further education and primary and secondary schools had to be funded.
My Department’s position in relation to voluntary contributions is that they are permissible provided it is made absolutely clear to parents that there is no question of compulsion to pay. I have no plans to alter this position so long as schools ensure that the contributions are sought in a manner that makes this clear to all concerned.
Separately, the Deputy will be aware that the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill, which was published on 6thJuly 2016, contains a provision prohibiting the charging of fees or seeking payment or contributions for an application for admission to a school or for the enrolment or continued enrolment of a student in a school.
I also intend to introduce a stronger complaints procedure and a charter for parents. It is important that schools should consult parents on matters relating to their children's education, including those matters which have cost implications, and schools should be responsive to the views and concerns of parents. In that regard requiring schools to have a parent charter will ensure that schools will interact better with parent associations and with individual parents.
I plan to make an announcement shortly on draft legislation that will replace Section 28 of the Education Act, 1998 and require every school to publish and operate a Parent and Student Charter in accordance with national guidelines. These guidelines will be published after consultation with the education partners.
I believe that these actions will significantly strengthen the focus on reducing school costs for parents.