One in four schools still does not run a book rental scheme, but Education Minister Ruairi Quinn says making it compulsory could penalise less well-off students.
Last year parents of students starting second level faced bills averaging around €300, rising to €500 for those starting fifth year.
Department of Education inspectors found three quarters of primary schools operate the annual book grant from the department, equivalent to €11 per pupil and rising to €21 for every child at schools in the Deis programme for disadvantaged schools.
At second level, schools are paid €24 per student or €39 in Deis schools.
However, there is greater variation in the use of book rental schemes, with almost 90% of vocational schools and 73% of those in the community and comprehensive sector running them, a department survey found.
While the figures from religious -run schools were inconclusive, a report by department inspectors says a previous survey suggests that just less than one third of them have a scheme in place.
There were calls last year from the Society of St Vincent de Paul, Barnardos and others to make payment of the book grant conditional on it being used to run a rental scheme. But the inspectors have reported back to Mr Quinn that there may be disadvantages to this approach.
For example, they said that schools currently using other programmes to distribute the grants to needy students would no longer receive any support. They also said the autonomy sought by schools in how they use financial supports would be removed.
Many schools prefer to use the book grant to stock libraries or to give more targeted help to families most in need of assistance with books and other school costs.
The minister said changing the way book grants are allocated is likely to be disruptive to schools.
But while arrangements will remain the same for the coming school year, he is to seek the opinions of parents, students, teachers, principals and school management about the various options on any restrictions around the funding.
“Following this feedback, I hope to make a decision by the end of the summer so that if there are any changes to the book grant scheme, schools will have a year’s notice,” Mr Quinn said.
Following pressure from the minister and lobby groups last year, most of the main educational publishers have signed up to a new code aimed at helping to reduce the costs to parents. This includes discounts of up to 17.5% for bulk purchases for rental schemes, limits on revised editions and greater use of online technology to facilitate changes without making books out of date.
Many second-level schools offered explanations about why they did not have a book rental scheme, including resource issues such as the availability of a staff member to operate it because of a management promotions ban.
Others mentioned the initial start-up costs being too high, lack of space to store books and plans to introduce e-books.
The department said many schools reported having a limited scheme, restricted to first-year groups or certain subjects, and others said their parents’ association was exploring the idea of setting up a book rental scheme.
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