Education Minister Ruairi Quinn wants schools to stop insisting on expensive uniforms that are adding huge burdens to struggling families, but says he does not have the power to make them change their policies.
However, the minister has suggested the Oireachtas Education Committee should haul school management bodies in to try to push for changes to help hard-pressed parents.
Mr Quinn is to meet Barnardos, the Society of St Vincent de Paul, and the primary and second level National Parents Councils to discuss the issue.
A second survey this week, from the National Consumer Agency, has revealed that almost 80% of parents are more concerned about school costs than last year, with an average family with a child in primary and another at second level forking out more than €1,100 on uniforms, books, and other essentials.
A Barnardos survey detailed in yesterday’s Irish Examiner found similar costs and reported parents are turning to charity, taking out loans, or scrimping on food shopping to pay back-to-school bills.
Mr Quinn says the most appropriate solution is for a school to choose a generic uniform which could be supplied in department stores or other shops, allowing schools to arrange for them to be customised with a badge or crest.
“The production of the badge may be outsourced but is conceived and delivered locally,” Mr Quinn told the Dáil recently. “As it is, uniforms are not manufactured in this country, so it is not a question of disrupting employment.”
However, a Department of Education spokesperson yesterday repeated the minister’s assertion that he has no legal authority to oblige schools to adopt policies about uniforms. Mr Quinn has instead urged parent associations to raise this issue and book-list costs with their children’s schools.
“It is important that schools are sensitive to the financial pressures on parents in making decisions, not just about school uniforms but about any matter that has cost implications for parents,” the department said.
The Joint Managerial Body which represents the boards of almost 400 secondary schools, said schools are already reviewing the uniforms issue.
“Schools see the pressures on families every day and we encourage them to engage with parent associations to address this issue,” said JMB general secretary Ferdia Kelly.
Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue called on Joan Burton, the social protection minister, to ensure all families entitled to the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance receive the payment ahead of the new term. Her department has already paid out around €45m under the scheme, but is still receiving around 1,700 applications a day.
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