Free schoolbooks for primary school children is a step in the right direction towards a “truly” free education system but other targeted measures announced today will also be crucial to helping parents.
That’s according to social justice advocates ahead of Budget 2023, which is expected to announce schoolbooks will be made free for primary school children at a cost of €47m. The move has been welcomed by the national children’s charity Barnardos.
“There should be truly free education within Ireland, and this is a step in the right direction towards that,” said Stephen Moffatt, national policy manager.
“It’s certainly not the final step, but it is really, really positive.”
Free schoolbooks were the “number one priority” identified by families who took part in the latest Barnardos Back to School survey, which found families were going to extreme measures, like forgoing proper meals, to afford back-to-school costs.
“A lot of families really were struggling to meet back-to-school costs, and books are a big part of that.”
In the long-term, Barnardos would like to see voluntary contributions abolished, free books provided to secondary schools, and uniform costs addressed.
“The Government doesn’t necessarily need to spend any money to address that issue, they just need to put more pressure on schools to make sure there are affordable uniform options.”
The charity is watching today’s budget announcement to see the targeted measures, he added.
"Families across the board are struggling so they do need support from Government, but the families on the lowest incomes are really struggling and have to make decisions on things like whether or not children have access to essentials this winter. They are the families that really need support this budget.”
The move to make schoolbooks free has also been welcomed by Social Justice Ireland. “It is going to be a reduction in costs for parents,” said Michelle Murphy, research and policy analyst.
“Beyond that, we’d looked for €50m to further support the expansion of the DEIS programme [for disadvantaged schools] that was announced earlier this year.
“The Department and the Minister also need to look at the whole issue of voluntary contributions. We would have called for a 10% increase to the capitation grant for both primary and second level schools.”
“We’re also quite concerned the CLASS scheme, the Covid-learning loss programme, is being wound down. The impacts of Covid interruptions to learning are going to be long-term, and that’s concerning to us because the children who are the most disadvantaged are the ones who are most impacted by lost time in the classroom.”