Govt must meaningfully reduce the cost of the return to school
Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has called on Government to consider its powers to make primary education genuinely free of charge. Marking the return to school, Deputy Ó Ríordáin said many families will struggle over the coming months to pay for schoolbooks, uniforms and voluntary contributions. What’s missing is a compassionate approach to education and vision for a fairer society.
Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:
“August means back to school, but it also means back to school costs for families. We need to ensure that every child gets a fair start in life when it comes to schooling. Many parents are really struggling with school costs, particularly as their children move through the school system and into secondary school. Parents shouldn’t be forced to pick up the tab for the failure of the Government to fund the actual costs of educating our children.
“The Barnardos The Real Cost of School 2020 survey showed that the average cost for just the basic needs of a senior infant pupil is €330; a fourth class pupil is €365 and a first year pupil is €735. This is a huge amount of money for any family to be expected to pay and research shows that these figures increase even more when a child graduates to secondary school. The Government requires parents to pay for books, transport, uniforms, pens and paper, as well as ‘voluntary’ contributions to schools.
“As well as the cost of returning to school, there are continued areas that require urgent attention from the Minister. Despite improvements, class sizes are still too big, and we will reduce primary class sizes to the EU average by 2025. The next Census in 2022 will provide important demographic information for future resource planning in our education system but what we will do is reduce class sizes. We also need to reduce DEIS class sizes and increase capitation grants to DEIS schools, as well as expand the provision of Special Needs Assistants in schools.
“Often overlooked in the cost of school more generally is the cost of lunches on families. Strong international evidence points to the success of school meals programmes in improving children’s capacity to learn. They are also essential for the most vulnerable children who come to school without having eaten breakfast and with no school lunch. The Government should look to be ambitious in this regard at the Budget – no child should be left hungry by the State.
“Last year, I called on the Government to be ambitious for struggling families by giving all children access to free schoolbooks which would cost the State around €20 million. The forthcoming budget is another opportunity for the Government to show they are committed to creating a fair start for all children, and should also look to increase the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.
“This is an extremely stressful time of year for parents who are struggling, it is time for the State to be a bit more cognizant of this and look to actually reduce the cost of the return to school for families throughout the country.”