Parents to be able to pay online for school activities

Parents are to be offered a range of online, card, and in-shop options to pay their children’s schools for trips, sports, and other activities.

Around 100 schools should benefit from the electronic payments plans next year, rolling out later as an option for all 4,000 primary and second-level schools.

In a 2014 study, the Central Bank found that cash and cheques were still the main methods by which payments were made to schools, with up to 80% of primary school parents, and nearly two-thirds at second-level, restricted mainly to paying by cash.

Schools are anxious to migrate to electronic payment methods, with security around storage and transport being the main concerns, as well the time taken up managing cash.

In the initial pilot at around 100 schools next year, a mix of options should be made available, with the idea of finalising schemes for wider rollout later.

A number of providers will be selected to offer schools the ability to give parents a pick of one or more from a menu of card terminal, online, retail, direct debit and standing order payment methods. But it will be entirely up to individual schools which combination of the services, if any, they sign up to.

The Education Procurement Service, a centralised purchasing hub, is aiming for a “comprehensive range of flexible, user-friendly payment solutions which makes the sending to, and receiving payments in schools”.

However, it is not envisaged that the option to pay by cash would be removed entirely. Providers of different options will also need to facilitate family discounts, the making of monthly or quarterly payments, and to issue receipts with the school name and a student ID or a reference number for all payments.

For the online option, parents should be able to find an embedded payment service on their school’s website, to facilitate secure payments by debit or credit card.

In Britain, there are separate online portals, where families can log on and make a payment to a selected school if it is registered with the service.

The companies responding to the tender issued in August may also offer to provide a card terminal service, allowing parents to make payments by visiting the school.

Another option is to have a ‘retail footprint’ around the country, which would allow payments to be made in a network of shops.

The services planned for roll-out next year would provide for the issuing of group payment reminders by email or text message to parents, possibly linking in with existing communication systems which schools operate for families. The service providers are expected to have suitable vetting and data protection measures in place concerning access to information about students.

Learning how to pay differently

A Central Bank survey in late 2013 found that at least two-thirds of parents make payments to schools for trips, books and stationery, uniforms, fundraising, insurance, voluntary contributions, and collections for charities.

Other common payments they have to make are for arts-and-crafts supplies, lockers, mock exams, food or drinks, and after-hours activities such as sports, music, or speech and drama.

The survey was carried out with almost 600 parents who had children at primary or second-level schools.
It also got the views of 300
second-level schools in an online survey, and spoke to Department of Education officials, school staff, and financial service firms.

While the vast majority of parents had access to internet, email and debit cards, only 55% had a credit card, with lower levels among younger and ‘blue collar’ parents.

Although payments by cheque worth more than €10bn are still made every month, it is the only declining non-cash method. The 10.8m cheques paid in the first three months of 2017 was down 17% from more than 13m in less than a year.

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