Labour calls for all school books to be free

Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Labour have called for all books for school children to be made free and for contributions demanded of parents to be banned.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin noted that the Constitution guarantees free primary education.

“Now is the time to make education free,” he said.

Labour say that the cost of making all books free for children in primary school would be €20m, while extending this to secondary level after two years would amount to another €20m.

“This week is the last week of school. School is out for summer,” said Mr Ó Ríordáin. “This week, every parent will be getting a school book list and also the implications about voluntary contributions that parents would be expected to pay in September.

“While it is a nice day and a nice week for schoolchildren, it can be a bit of a stressful one for parents who now realise that they have a book fee that they have to finance over the summer.”

Labour notes that the purchase of school books is an acute cost for families here but, in the North, all school books are free.

“It happens in Derry and Down, so why not Dublin?” said Mr Ó Ríordáin.

A free schoolbooks scheme could and should be introduced in the autumn, Labour said, which would be funded through general taxation. This will form part of Labour’s budget submission.

Labour also wants the voluntary contributions demanded of parents by schools to be scrapped. Such demands, often running to hundreds of euro for each pupil, can cause great stress and difficulties for households, especially those that are less well-off, it said.

However, such a ban would not prohibit school fundraisers. Instead, Labour said capitation grants could increase by €15m for schools.

Mr O’Riordain said: “As part of our alternative budget for 2019, Labour will outline detailed, costed plans to make primary education free.”

Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan said it is at this time of the year, and closer to the new school term, that many families are forced to turn to the St Vincent de Paul for help and financial support.

In response, the Government said more funds are being invested in education than ever before — more than €10bn, some €1bn more than were two years ago.

Education Minister Richard Bruton said a circular was issued to schools in April 2017 to ensure a greater emphasis was put on reducing costs for parents.

A department statement said: “Schools have to do everything possible to keep costs down for parents, including the use of generic items, sew-on or iron-on crests, and making sure that various elements of the uniform can be purchased in multiple stores.”

Schools must also shortly publish a financial statement showing how any voluntary contribution is spent by the school.

Mr Bruton’s department said recent figures available indicate that circa 95% of primary schools and 65% of post-primary schools operate a book rental scheme and that €16.5m was provided last year to support book rental schemes.

In addition, €15.7m seed capital was provided from 2014 to 2016 to support the establishment of book rental schemes in the primary schools, it was noted.

The department also said decisions in relation to the measures introduced as part of Budget 2019 will be considered as part of the normal budgetary process.

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