Free primary school books 'first step' as minister determined to expand to second level

Free primary school books 'first step' as minister determined to expand to second level

Annabelle Coade and Amelia Shinkwin from First Class at Strawberry Hill National School on Blarney St, Sunday's Well, Cork. Minister Norma Foley said the new €47m scheme will see the State provide free schoolbooks to more than 500,000 children. Photo: Gerard McCarthy

Schools will have the opportunity to continue the relationship they have with local bookshops, which often rely on the annual sales of textbooks, under the new scheme announced as part of Budget 2023.

That is according to Norma Foley, the Minister for Education, who provided details at a budget briefing on Wednesday of the new €47m scheme that will see the State provide free schoolbooks to more than 500,000 children.

The scheme is expected to be modeled on the free book scheme piloted in more than 100 DEIS schemes since September 2020. Many schools will already have a relationship with local providers through the schoolbook rental scheme, Ms Foley said.

“There will be a genuine determination in schools to make things work. It’s a really positive move for children and their families.” 

She described providing the free books as a "first step", adding that it is her determination to expand the scheme further to post-primary in the future, but the budget is limited in terms of resources. 

For the third year in a row, the staffing schedule will be reduced, meaning the pupil:teacher ratio at primary school will stand at 23:1, the lowest average on record. 

In light of the current cost-of-living crisis, a once-off fund of €90m will also be provided to schools to help with their energy bills. This funding will be paid at a rate of 40% of schools’ basic and enhanced rates of capitation. 

A further €10m will be provided to school bus operators specifically for fuel costs. Many organizations had called for a 20% increase in the capitation rate, Ms Foley added. 

There is the funding going into schools in other streams as well, she said, citing that a primary school for 150 students can expect to receive roughly €70,800 between the once-off grant, capitation, and ancillary grants pooled together. A 1,000-pupil post-primary school can expect to receive €710,500, she added. 

“It's a significant recognition of the significant challenge for schools.”

The minister faced fierce criticism in recent weeks, as many students have been left without bus tickets this year after school transport fees were waived this summer in response to the cost-of-living crisis. 

Additional funding has also been secured as part of this budget for more tickets for students who applied on time, and who were previously in receipt of a concessionary ticket last year, this minister also confirmed on Wednesday. 

“They will be the first priority," she said.  There will still be capacity considerations and constraints in sourcing vehicles and drivers in certain areas of the country. 

Ms Foley said: “I’m conscious that for many, many years there have been issues around [concessionary tickets] and it is for that reason I have undertaken a full root-and-branch review of the whole school transport system.” 

“In the interim, as a cost-of-living measure, this step was taken around the waiving of the school transport fees.” 

There are significant “pinch points” in parts of the country, she added. “We are working through each of those cases.”

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From florist to fraudster, leaving a trail of destruction from North Cork, to Waterford, to Clare, to Wexford and through the midlands ... learn how mistress of re-invention, Catherine O'Brien, scammed her way around rural Ireland.

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