Primary education could be made free ‘overnight’ - Barnardos

‘Tiny overall investment’ could remove cost of books, transport and contributions

Minister for Education Richard Bruton. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Education Richard Bruton. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The head of children’s charity Barnardos has blamed poor management of the education budget for the cost of primary education, which could be made free “overnight”.

“When you have a budget of €8 billion and you can’t find €100million there’s something wrong with your management” said Fergus Finlay in response to the failure of Minister for Education Richard Bruton to make primary education completely free.

Mr Finlay was speaking following the announcement of Mr Bruton’s plan to publish rules aimed at reducing the cost of education for parents, with penalties for schools that do not comply.

Under the new measures, schools will be obliged to reduce the cost of uniforms and introduce book rental schemes in order to ease financial pressures facing parents under new measures.

Despite a system of “free education”, parents face hefty costs for books, uniforms and and voluntary contributions. Mr Finlay said that with a relatively small investment, the problem could be fixed overnight.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland on Tuesday, he said: “It’s long past the time that schools were told to apply common sense when it comes to uniforms. It has never made sense to say that all uniforms must be bought in a preferred supplier and that particular levels of quality must be used.

“This doesn’t involve any investment by the State,” he said.

“We’ve made the case time and time again to the Minister that it would cost a tiny amount of money in overall terms to make primary education in Ireland entirely free.”

Among the other measures schools will be directed to introduce are: ensuring all elements of a school uniform can be purchased from various stores; mandatory book rental schemes and a ban on workbooks which cannot be reused; only “iron on” or “sew on” crests should be used; use of generic rather than branded items should be specified wherever possible (such as uniforms, clothing, IT tablets, sports equipment, etc); and providing parents with a list of all required items and indicating the likely costs of these required items at best value stores.

Mr Finlay said to eliminate the cost of books, transport and voluntary contributions would cost less than €100 million, while providing “enormous” economic return to the State.

He said: “I don’t understand why successive Ministers have chosen instead to wag their fingers at schools and say ‘do the bare minimum’ when such a tiny overall investment, in what is supposed to be a constitutional right for all children, would solve the problem overnight.

“How you can have a right that has so many costs around it and still call it a right, baffles us.”

Mr Finlay said the Minister who makes primary education free will be “very popular”, adding: “It’s not always that it happens in politics that the right thing to do is always the popular thing.”