Nearly all primary schools are now operating some level of book rental scheme, according to the Department of Education.
It found that the number running a book scheme has jumped from 77% of the country’s 3,300 primary schools in 2011 to 94% in 2014. The biggest increase was last year when it increased from 84% a year earlier.
However, while dedicated funds to help primary schools open a loan programme if they did not previously have one has helped, most recent information shows only 68% of second-level schools operate such schemes.
The figures do not make clear, for either primary or second-level, whether these are full or partial rental schemes. Schools can decide, for example, only to offer books through a scheme initially for certain classes or year groups, or for a limited number of subjects at first, and gradually expanding.
Beginning last year, a €15m fund has been available over three years to support the establishment of rental schemes in primary schools that did not already have one.
It provides €100 for each child in those primary schools, with €150 for every pupil at schools in the department’s Deis educational disadvantage initiative.
Most of the funding was issued last year, with almost one-third received by those schools last May.
The department said schools which qualified for this funding had to complete a declaration form that they would set up a textbook loan or rental scheme, and all the money would be used exclusively for that purpose.
There was initial controversy the one-off funding was seen to reward schools which had not started rental schemes through their own fundraising or other sources.
However, primary schools that had a scheme before 2014 received the first instalment of a two-year grant in May to help update their book stocks.
They got €7 per pupil this year and will get another €11 in 2016 for each child, with DEIS primary schools receiving €1 extra per pupil, or a total of €20.
Schools qualifying for this funding must also ensure it is used solely for funding their rental schemes.
While such schemes can have major benefits, they also require a lot of organisation, particularly at start-up stage, and at the end of each school year must pay for repairs or replacing damaged or lost books.
Workbooks anger parents, who complain they can only be bought new.
A school publishers’ representative group said their use is a matter for individual teachers or schools.
Department of Education guidelines advise schools on workbook alternatives, or ways to facilitate their re-use:
Old-fashioned copybooks can be used for answers to workbook questions;
Clearboards are like plastic pockets, into which workbooks fit. Pupils can write answers on the plastic sheet with a marker, which can be easily cleaned off for re-use;
Photocopyable master workbooks can legally be photocopied, but copying costs can exceed expected workbook savings;
Electronic versions of workbooks, available from most publishers, can be used by the whole class from an interactive whiteboard.
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