Parents of children attending up to four thousand schools are to be balloted on whether they want their schools to have a crested uniform, a cheaper generic uniform, or none at all.
Following complaints that parents were not consulted by boards of management and often had no option but to purchase expensive crested uniforms, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said empowering parents to determine uniform policy was the most effective way to tackle school costs. A questionnaire will be circulated to schools by the end of this month, and Mr Quinn wants any changes to be implemented by the start of the 2014 school year.
Parents will be asked to vote on a series of options:
* Do they want a school uniform?
* If so, do they want it in colours and shades that are cheaper in large retailers?
* Do they want a school blazer, a school crest on garments, and what type?
* Would they prefer to source a uniform in large retail stores but purchase crests from the school and attach them themselves?
Mr Quinn said that, on the costs issue alone, he believed generic uniforms from retail stores with a school crest attached by parents was the best option.
Mr Quinn, who announced the initiative alongside Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, said the ballots are expected to be completed by the end of Feb 2014.
He also said his department was working on developing a Parents Charter that will further strengthen the position of parents generally in the school system.
A Barnardos School Costs survey published in August found that, on average, parents spent €95 on uniforms for a senior infants pupil, €120 on a fourth-class pupil and well over €250 for a first-year pupil.
Uniforms purchased in a specialised store can be up to three times more expensive than in large retail outlets. For example, crested jumpers start at €45 for secondary school, compared with €12 in a retail store.
The move was welcomed by a number of interested groups including St Vincent de Paul, which said parents had little contact with boards of management and ended up paying unnecessarily high uniform costs without being consulted.
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