The cost of ‘free’ education
Schools in Ireland are only free in name; semi-subsidised would be a more accurate term
THE COST OF GOING TO SCHOOL
The annual round up of school costs tends to take in books, uniforms and voluntary contributions. But an ongoing list of items and events means the cost of school is not just about that initial back-to-school outlay. Here are some of the year-round costs parents may need to budget for:
Swimming lessons: €50 to €90 a term
Irish dancing/tin whistle/tennis: €30 to €50 a term
Special school journal: €2 to €5
Art materials: €30
First Communion: average €200
Confirmation: average €200
School tour: average €20
Christmas play entrance fee: €5
School photo: €10
Fundraisers (no uniform day, sponsorship cards, readathons, Christmas fair and so on ): average €30 a year
Transition year: €200-€500 a year
Correction of mock exams for Junior Cert and Leaving Cert: €100 to €150 a student.
State exam fees - Junior Cert: €109
State exam fees - Leaving Cert : €116
School tours domestic €20-€50
School tours abroad: €200-€600
Ingredients for home economics: €20
Materials for woodwork/materials technology/construction studies: €50
Debs: average €100
WHY CHARGE A VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTION?
The “voluntary” contribution varies from school to school, and three in five primary schools charge one. At post-primary it is more widespread and ranges from €50 to €500, says John O’Donovan (pictured), principal at St Joseph’s Secondary School in Kerry and chair of the ASTI Principal and Deputy Principal Committee.
He says that for voluntary secondary schools, there is up to 30 per cent of a shortfall compared to others, which leaves many schools under religious patronage struggling.
Standard capitation rates are €176 for primary and €306 for post-primary per pupil, and “the capitation grant is €90 less in a voluntary school than in a community/comprehensive school. We have to find ways of paying for ancillary staff, insurance and other unavoidable costs ourselves.”
“We have a voluntary contribution of €50 that covers photocopying, posting results, texting parents , pupil insurance and extracurricular activities.
“Utility bills are rising but capitation fees have fallen by 11 per cent in four years. It was very cold last winter and we had to buy two extra tanks of oil. That money has to be made up somewhere. I know of two schools running a deficit of €30,000 to €40,000 per year.”
How schools manage their budgets varies - it’s a matter of good housekeeping in some cases. In others, older school buildings just take more money to run.
“The bottom line is there is no place else to cut. There is very little left when all bills are paid,” says O’Donovan.
Sheila Nunan, INTO general secretary, says primary schools do not take pleasure in hitting parents for money. “No school wants to ask parents for money for art and craft, swimming lessons or computer costs which are all part of the curriculum. No school wants to ask parents for money to pay the light or heating bills.
“But nearly every Irish primary school has to do so because of government underfunding of primary schools. State spending on school running costs is less than a euro a day per child.”