Claim of free education in Ireland ‘an insult’, Barnardos says

Charity says parents ‘at the end of their tether trying to grapple with’ school costs

Fergus Finlay, chief executive of Barnardos. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Fergus Finlay, chief executive of Barnardos. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times


The Irish education system has “inequality and unfairness” at its core, while claims of free education are an “insult” to parents struggling to cover back-to-school costs, Barnardos has said.

The children’s charity said its 11th annual school costs survey paints a bleak picture of the primary and secondary education systems.

It accused successive governments of displaying an unwillingness to tackle systemic inequities.

It said the absence of a level playing field across the system meant that some parents benefited from low-cost book rental schemes and access to cheap generic uniforms while others had to buy all of their children’s books and kit them out in expensive crested clothes.

The survey finds that when clothes, shoes, books, classroom resources and voluntary contributions are paid, parents of children in senior infants will spend an average of €340, €25 less than last year.

The same items for a child in fourth class are put at €395 (€5 less than in 2015), while parents of a child entering secondary school will spend €775, or €10 less than in 2015.

“We always imagine it’s the children dreading back-to-school time the most, but year after year it’s clear to Barnardos that parents are the ones suffering,” commented Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay .

‘Anger and frustration’

Many of the 1,500 parents who took part in the survey had expressed “feelings of anger and frustration”, Mr Finlay said.

“They told us the lack of consistency in education costs is symptomatic of an education system which has inequality and unfairness at its core,” he said.

Government claims that it offers free education to all children was an “insult to parents”, he said, who “know education is far from free because they are the ones having to pay for it”.

Mr Finlay said the Government had the “power, the means and the opportunity in Budget 2017 to reduce the burden on parents”.

Voluntary contribution

“For just €103 million,” he said, “it could provide all primary school books, remove the voluntary contribution, eliminate classroom resources fees, restore the capitation rates back to 2010 levels, and provide free transport for those using the School Transport Scheme.

“This minimal investment would ensure a level playing field for all primary school pupils and substantially reduce the financial burden on parents.

“The Government has already pledged to increase education spending by €500 million by 2021,” Mr Finlay said.

“Barnardos wants to see this spent efficiently and effectively to reduce the burden on parents.

“It is the Government’s responsibility to adequately fund education – not parents.”

June Tinsley, Barnardos’ head of advocacy, said parents were “at the end of their tether trying to grapple with these costs”.