McHugh says new law will ease back-to-school costs for parents

Legislation will require schools to consult with parents over ways to reduce expenses

Minister for Education Joe McHugh:  he said   the Government was committed to tackling back-to-school costs. Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Education Joe McHugh: he said the Government was committed to tackling back-to-school costs. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Schools will be required to consult parents on ways to help reduce back-to-school costs under new legislation, Minister for Education Joe McHugh has pledged.

He was responding to a survey by the charity Barnardos which found that parents are “stressed out, overburdened and fed up” by the high cost of sending children back to school.

The charity said the Government could make school books free for all primary school children at a “minuscule” cost which would amount to just 0.2 per cent of the annual education budget.

In response, Mr McHugh said the Government was committed to tackling back-to-school costs.

He said he was making final preparations to publish the Student and Parent Charter Bill, which will offer significant reform in how school management engages with parents and children.

“One of its key initiatives will be to allow students and mothers and fathers have a say on many aspects of life in a school. Costs will be a significant topic,” he said.

“The legislation will require schools to consult with students and parents, and invite them to offer feedback on issues such as costs and suggest changes to help reduce expenses.”

He also pointed to the “success” of the department’s school books grant scheme, which is available to all non-fee-paying schools to help with the cost of school books.

Mr McHugh said almost €17 million in funding was provided to schools last year for this book scheme, which is aimed at pupils whose families are on low incomes or experience financial hardship.

“The grant can be used to set up a book rental scheme within the school or to help individual students buy books, and all schools are encouraged to operate such a scheme.”

Initiatives

Mr McHugh also said a range of initiatives have been taken over the last two years by the department to promote measures to be adopted by schools to reduce costs, including the cost of school uniforms.

“This includes encouraging cost-effective practices like generic rather than branded clothing, use of sew-on or iron-on crests and all elements of a uniform being available from various stores,” he said.

While this measure provides for the provision of extra capitation fees for schools who make efforts to consult parents on costs, this has not yet happened, according to latest available data.

Mr McHugh also acknowledged the need to improve capitation funding for all schools, which was cut during the economic downturn.

He said the Government this year provided for a 5 per cent increase in capitation funding for primary and post-primary schools that will apply from the start of the coming school year.

“This increase in capitation will mean an additional €10 million will be allocated to primary and post-primary schools for the coming school year. As a Government we are committed to building on that in the coming years.”

Extra costs

Separately, he pointed to an increase in the back-to-school allowance for the 2019/2020 school year by €25, bringing the total budget provision for the scheme to over €56 million this year.

He said the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance provided a once-off payment to eligible families to assist with the extra costs when children start school each autumn.

It is due to be automatically paid to almost 145,000 families in respect of approximately 266,000 children this year.

Other families are recommended to check out the scheme to see if they are eligible.

The income limits for this payment have been adjusted to ensure that the increases in social welfare payment rates introduced in this year’s budget do not negatively impact on people’s entitlement to the allowance.