Education Minister Richard Bruton will announce plans today to link rises in the budgets given to schools to their compliance with new principles on keeping down costs of essentials for their children’s education.
Although it remains unclear exactly how his department proposes to monitor cost-reduction measures, Mr Bruton will tell the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) annual congress that schools which do more will benefit more.
He has already committed to restoring the amount paid to schools, in a capitation grant based on pupil numbers, over the next three years from any increases to his own budget.
Under the new requirements, all 4,000 primary and second-level schools will be required to ensure:
- Parents are given lists of all items required and likely costs in best-value stores;
- All elements of uniforms can be bought from various stores, and only iron-on or sew-on crests are used;
- Generic items such as uniforms, tech equipment like tablets, and sports gear are specified over branded ones, where possible;
- The use of workbooks which cannot be re-used are banned;
- Book rental schemes are provided;
- Regular tendering takes place for items or services where exclusive supply arrangements are in place.
The Department of Education will require schools to seek parents’ views on measures to reduce costs, using online questionnaires and other methods that Mr Bruton says require little administration.
“To deliver on my ambition to be the best, we have to improve information and complaint procedures for parents and students, particularly in relation to costs. The measures I am announcing today will give parents a strong voice in ensuring costs are always kept to a minimum,” he said.
“In restoring capitation payments, where schools have introduced these cost-effective principles, they will receive a premium capitation payment.”
The details of the new arrangement will be set out in a letter issuing to schools in the next week, stating that they must provide evidence of having adopted these principles in order to receive the higher grants. A spokesman for Mr Bruton said schools will be told by the department what kind of evidence will be required.
The other big cost item for parents, voluntary contributions sought by most schools, will be dealt with separately under proposed parent and student charters for which legislation has yet to be passed.
Every school would be required to operate a charter, under guidelines to be set out in association with the law that has already been the subject of scrutiny before its publication at the Oireachtas education committee. One requirement would be that schools publish a financial statement, to include information on how the contributions from parents are spent.
Although the measures should be welcomed by parents, their success will depend on how effective this carrot, rather than stick, approach can be. Previous efforts by ministers, particularly Labour’s Ruairi Quinn through guidelines on book rental and deciding uniform policies, have had little or no success in bringing down average back-to-school bills in recent years.
The lure of badly needed additional funds to meet rising costs like energy, insurance, running repairs, and classroom equipment will be a strong incentive.
Teachers and school managers are likely to point to the difficulties of administering book schemes or other initiatives since principals have been left without middle-management supports since the effective ban on all but limited numbers of allowances to give teachers additional responsibilities.