'Unfair pressure' for school donations


A GROWING number of Irish parents cannot pay the “voluntary contributions” being sought by the State’s primary and secondary schools and are facing “a financial nightmare” as their children return to school this week, the chief executive of the National Parents’ Council has warned.

“We have campaigned against voluntary contributions for many years and one of our big concerns remains the nature of the payments being sought and the fact that many parents are put under unfair pressure to make the contribution even if they cannot afford it,” Áine Lynch said.

She accepted that Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn and his predecessors had all insisted that schools could not force parents to pay the contribution, but added the reality was that “many parents feel they have no choice” in the matter.

Ms Lynch said the number of parents struggling to pay the charge had risen considerably as the recession deepened, and warned that some schools were now asking for the contribution to be paid as part of pre-enrolment policy.

She called for a re-evaluation of the funding of primary schools in the Republic.

All schools, she said, should have a funding committee to look at alternatives to simply passing on the cost of funding shortfalls to parents.

Ms Lynch also asked why 40 per cent of schools could manage without asking parents to contribute to funding, and she suggested that widespread financial management training could help school principals and school boards work within the budgets they have.

“We have seen a huge exodus of experienced principals in recent years, and while a growing number of younger people in senior roles is positive, they need significant training and support,” she pointed out.

Voluntary school contributions for some primary pupils have increased by 50 per cent since 2011, a back-to-school survey published earlier this month by children’s charity Barnardos has found.

The contribution by parents of children at senior infant level had increased by a third to €100 and was up by 50 per cent for fourth-class pupils to €100, the non-representative survey of 987 parents found.

The charity said budget cuts had led to schools increasingly relying on parents to make up the shortfall.

While many schools will not reopen until next week, the end of the summer will come early for tens of thousands of Irish schoolchildren as early as tomorrow.