Primary and secondary schools will receive a once-off €90 million fund — or a 40 per cent increase in school capitation — to meet the rising cost of energy bills.
Fee-charging primary and secondary schools, however, will not be automatically eligible for the increased funding.
“This is a significant uplift for our schools,” said Minister for Education Norma Foley at a press conference on Wednesday to outline details of the Budget 2023 allocation for the education sector. She added that her department was open to requests for additional support from fee-charging schools on a “case-by-case” basis.
On the supply of energy and risk of power outages to schools, she said Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan was “confident enough” that the State will manage through and added that schools did not use energy at peak hours.
“If we have learned anything from the past, it is the necessity to be flexible and resilient. The flexibility and resilience of schools on the ground has been enormous,” she said.
On Tuesday’s announcement of free schoolbooks at primary level, she said individual schools will have the flexibility to decide whether they wish to source books from their local bookshops or enter into bulk-buying arrangements. Ms Foley said free schoolbooks at primary level signifies a “new chapter in Irish primary education”.
“This permanent initiative will greatly reduce the burden on families and reflects the importance this Government places on education for all children. It will benefit up to 540,000 students, across every county,” she said.
When asked if there are plans to extend free schoolbooks to post-primary pupils, she said it was her “absolute determination” to do so, subject to available resources.
Responding to the additional detail, the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association welcomed the additional funding as a “welcome first step on the road to free primary education”.
“School budgets are being battered by the cost-of-living crisis,” said Seamus Mulconry, general secretary of the association. “The funding increases in this budget are critical to getting schools through what promises to be a very tough winter.”
Ms Foley rejected claims from some teachers’ unions that the post-primary sector had been neglected in the budget and said funding has been made available to hire hundreds of extra second-level teachers, along with increased capitation payments and investment in senior-cycle reform.
She also confirmed that additional funding is being made available to ensure that more students are able to access school transport this year. However, she was unable to say how many additional places there will be or when they will be available. She said the vast majority of eligible applications who applied on time have now been issued tickets, while a “small number” remain to be accommodated over the coming days and weeks. Additional funding has been approved for temporary additional capacity to cater to additional “concessionary” applicants.
Concessionary pupils are those who are not strictly eligible for school transport, but are offered seats where capacity exists after all eligible children have been catered for.
A spokesman for the Department of Education said the initial focus will be “where families applied on time and who previously held concessionary tickets”. He said this is subject to capacity considerations and that constraints in sourcing vehicles and drivers in certain areas of the country mean it may take a number of weeks to get solutions for additional capacity.
“As additional capacity for these families who had concessionary tickets in previous years is being put in place, there will be further scope to accommodate other students where spare capacity on vehicles arises,” he added.
The Minister also confirmed that class sizes at primary level will fall to a “historic low” of one classroom teacher for every 23 children next September, down from one teacher for every 24 children. She said this one-point improvement will also apply to the 300-plus Deis “urban band one” schools, but not to other schools with Deis or disadvantaged status.