‘I’m a working parent and this year the cost of school is crippling’

Ask Brian: Capacity of the State to order schools to reduce costs is questionable

There’s little doubt that school costs are increasing for many, but the capacity of the State to order schools to reduce costs is questionable. Photograph: iStock

I’m a working parent and this year the cost of school is crippling. It’s not just books, uniforms and iPads - but filling 12 weeks with summer camps and other activities is a massive stretch. There were plans announced a few years ago to consult parents on reducing school costs. Whatever happened to them?

There’s no doubt that costs assoicated with school are on the rise. There are the usual - school books, school uniforms, PE gear - along with costs associated with photocopying, personal insurance, voluntary contributions and educational trips. Add in the high up-front cost of iPads - adopted in many schools now - and it really adds up.

The capacity of the State to dictate to schools how they manage the costs associated all this, however, is very much in question.

Schools in the voluntary sector are privately owned and are under no legal obligation to adhere to any cost management proposals from the Department of Education.


Even in the State sector - ETB schools - where the department issues an instruction to provide tuition in other subjects to students who opted out of religious education classes, the point-blank refusal of the management, teachers, and representative union, to implement the directive led to it being quietly abandoned.

I would not, therefore, hold out much hope that the costs burden associated with funding a child in school is going to change in any meaningful way any time soon.

Schools do have acess to some State funds to support families in severe financial difficulties, and they use those funds very sensitively to ensure no child is ever treated any differently by virtue of their family’s personal circumstances.

Many schools make genuine efforts to introduce book rental schemes where practical to help reduce costs.

Your second point regarding the costs associated with keeping your child safe for 12 weeks once schools close for tuition at the end of May each year has huge merit and is very rarely aired.

Where both parents work it presents huge challenges, given the opportunities for problems to develop and escalate over such an extended unsupervised period of time.

One suggestion that the Minister for Education might consider would be to propose to his Cabinet colleagues and particularly the Minister for Finance that the cost of attending properly registered summer camps be made a tax-deductible expense for parents.

The benefit of such a measure would be to encourage course providers to register with the appropriate State body, meeting all health and safety, and quality standards, to ensure their approval under such a tax-deductible scheme.

If we can manage such schemes to upgrade our homes, why not do so to help protect our children then the schools empty at the beginning of the summer each year.

Do you have a query? Email askbrian@irishtimes.com