Parents with school-going children are set to get some financial relief on the cost of books and uniforms under the Government’s new education strategy.
The Action Plan for Education, launched on Wednesday, said it would establish ‘a framework that helps schools reduce costs bearing on parents’.
Under a “strong” circular to be sent to schools, they will be required to take into consideration the needs of parents when making decisions that have a financial impact.
These include decisions on the cost of uniforms, with the view of the National Parents Council and other related parties being taken into account when developing the circular.
The plan also outlines an increase in financial support for book rental schemes from 2017 onwards.
The measures were announced as part of a larger Government plan to significantly increase the number of people registering for apprenticeship and training schemes in response to the growing economy.
It costs €1,000 per year to send a child to primary school, research published by the Irish League of Credit Unions earlier this year showed.
The average cost of sending a child to a non-fee-paying primary school in September was just under €1,000, while the cost of a “free” education in any of the State’s secondary schools cost about €1,500, the research showed.
When the cost of uniforms, books, lunches, extracurricular activities, school trips, “voluntary” contributions, transport and sports gear are totted up, parents of children in the primary system will spend an average of €967 per child, according to the research.
Parents of secondary school children will spend an average of €1,474 per child.
The survey of 1,000 nationally representative adults found extracurricular activities to be the most expensive element for primary school children, having jumped sharply year on year.
The cost of uniforms remains the most costly item for secondary school children.
The cost of uniforms for younger children has fallen slightly. Ahead of the return to school, parents said they would spend €145 this year compared with €166 last year.
Uniforms and book costs
Uniforms in secondary school, meanwhile, cost an average of €234 this year, down from the €258 they cost last year.
Books were the next most expensive item, with primary school parents saying they would spend €94, down slightly from the €106 spent last year. Secondary school parents said they would spend €214, up €1 on last year’s figure. In 2014, the cost of secondary school books was put at €166.
Overall, 81 per cent of parents of school-going children said the costs were a significant burden with 31 per cent likely to get themselves into debt.
In the run up to sending children back to school, as many as one in eight parents said they would have to sacrifice spending on food to cover the associated costs.
The plan also recognises the need for greater diversity of schools and more open enrolment policies. It commits to the publication of new school admissions legislation for the start of the school year in 2017.
It will aim to make school enrolment policies more transparent, deliver more schools that are outside the control of the Catholic Church and provide greater fairness in school admission policies.
“We will support the establishment of 400 multi- and non-denominational schools to give greater choice in the type of school available. We will revise protocols to ensure no small school closes against the wishes of parents and facilitate amalgamations where desirable,” it says.
Minister for Education Richard Bruton and Minister of State said the plan, which aims to make the Irish education and training system the best in Europe in a decade, will follow the template of the last government's Action Plan for Jobs, which set out a system of targets and monthly reports.