Primary schools are to receive almost €100 per pupil to buy schoolbooks and copybooks which they may purchase from any bookshop under guidance due to issue to schools later this week.
It follows a Government announcement in Budget 2023 of a package of free schoolbooks for more than 500,000 primary school pupils from September 2023 at a cost of about €54 million.
Informed sources say a funding package of €96 per student will be paid to schools to cover schoolbooks, workbooks and copybooks.
Schools will also be advised not to seek voluntary contributions from parents for any book-related expenses on foot of the grants.
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The announcement means families in the Republic will finally catch up with those in the North where a free schoolbooks system has been in operation for decades.
However, it is likely to trigger complaints from book publishers who say the allocation will not be enough to cover the full cost of books, workbooks and e-learning resources.
There have been conflicting estimates over the real cost of schoolbooks from different organisations.
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Figures compiled by the Irish League of Credit Unions put the average cost of books at primary level at €110 per pupil, while education publishers have placed the figure at a significantly higher level.
Sources say the Department of Education figure of €96 per child is based on an analysis of the costs across a sample of schools, as well as engagement with school management bodies, unions, parents’ groups, booksellers, publishers and charities.
Publishers have warned, privately, that any shortfall in funding would results in schools seeking to make up the difference through voluntary contributions from parents.
There have also been concerns from independent bookshops about whether they will lose out on sales due to the changes.
While schools will have freedom to decide where they purchase their books, many currently have relationships with their local bookshops as part of an existing school book rental scheme.
This scheme, which involves a book grant of almost €17 million, is used by almost all schools and provides assistance for purchasing books and running book rental schemes.
Under this scheme, it is a matter for the board of management of each individual school to decide on its own policy in relation to the use of funding in schools, but they are expected to adopt a “cost-conscious approach” to the selection of books for use in classes.
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Some 96 per cent of schools are part of the scheme, which covers the cost of some books used in schools.
Under the new scheme, schools will be required to keep verified or audited accounts of income and expenditure, detailing the expenditure, and they will return their accounts annually to the Department of Education.
However, internal records show some latitude will be allowed to schools in how they use the grant in a similar manner to the way capitation and ancillary services funding is used.
The programme for government, agreed by the Coalition partners in 2020, pledges to expand the free schoolbooks scheme to “schools nationwide, as resources allow”.
The cost of extending free schoolbooks to second level has been explored by Government officials, who estimate that the cost could be in the region of €70 million.