Parents are forking out €42m a year in so-called voluntary contributions to primary schools to subsidise the Government.
The contribution that schools seek every year is one of the biggest causes of anger to parents surveyed on school costs by children’s charity Barnardos.
The charity estimates that €103m a year in extra education funding would allow parents a truly free primary school service.
The biggest element is the €42m it estimates will be paid by primary school parents in voluntary contributions this year, with another €47m paid to second-level schools.
Although the average paid for a pupil in senior infants is down from €100 to €85, it has gone up €5 to €95 for those in fourth class.
The survey found the proportions asked for voluntary contributions are up among those with children at primary and second level, to two-thirds and 79%, respectively.
But while the average for a first-year student remains €150, there is ‘wild’ variation between the amounts sought by schools.
One in three primary schools ask for over €100 per child, but this is the level set by over half of second-level schools, where one parent reported forking out €960 for four children before buying any books or uniforms.
“The school requests the ‘voluntary donation’ on the same form that reserves your child’s place in the school for the following year,” complained one of almost 1,500 parents surveyed by Barnardos.
Most schools that asked for contributions pursued parents with emails, texts, or letters, and some parents said requests for unpaid contributions were sent through their children.
In some cases, access to lockers was denied to children whose parents had not paid, a practice schools have been told should not happen because it means basic services are conditional on paying a fee.
“Voluntary contributions should be exactly that — voluntary. The schools send out repeated letters stating how much each family has to pay,” said one parent.
“My son’s class was told to bring in hand sanitiser and wash-cloths as there was no soap available for the year in the boy’s toilet. So where do the voluntary contributions go if not toward basic necessities such as soap?”
The charging of registration fees just to secure a school place would be banned under admissions law introduced last month .
For an idea of how the system could work better, the charity shared the experiences of one parent who took part in its survey: “Our children’s school handles this funding question very well, no uniform, book rental scheme, totally anonymous voluntary contribution scheme, no charity collections/events allowed in school for fear of strain it may put on families and reluctance to ask for money for once-off events etc, except one school tour.”
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