Minister says schools can seek voluntary contributions

 

SCHOOLS CAN seek contributions from parents so long as it is made “absolutely clear” that the contributions are voluntary, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has told the Dáil.

He also said he was “actively exploring” schemes to cut the cost of books by reducing the necessity for revised editions as well as eliminating the requirement for parents to buy school uniforms from specific shops rather than having generic “grey, blue, green and red uniforms”, which are sold in large retail stores. If schools “confined themselves to selling their badge or emblem, we could seriously address the cost issues”.

Mr Quinn was responding to concerns expressed by a number of TDs that schools were putting pressure on parents to contribute towards core curriculum as well as extra-curricular activities.

Derek Keating (FG, Dublin Mid West) said families were expected to make a voluntary registration fee at the start of each academic year and to contribute between €40 and €80 for photocopying as well as “anything from €100 to €300” for extra curricular activity such as sport, drama and music.

He cited one letter “typical of those sent to many families” in the Dublin region, where costs added up to almost €600 and with three or more children, there would be “very little change from €2,000”.

Mr Quinn said a school could seek payment for photocopying where the amount was “consistent with the costs involved and the level of materials provided”. They could also seek payment for extra-curricular activities which were not obligatory. “No charge may be made, however, in respect of instruction in any subject of the school curriculum or recreation or other activities where all pupils are expected to take part.”

Richard Boyd Barrett (PBP, Dún Laoghaire) referred to a school in his constituency where “there have been consistent complaints about serious pressure being put on less well-off students to come up with extra money for things that are part of the core curriculum, such as art and other subjects”.

The Minister said parents’ first port of call if undue pressure was being put on them should be the parents’ representative on boards of management.

Mr Quinn told Sinn Féin education spokesman Seán Crowe that he hoped to have a “best practice model” for book-lending schemes in place next year.