Quinn eager to give parents more control over education costs

Barnardos survey finds parents face costs of up to €800 to equip children for schools

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn said he is considering new ways to give parents more power to control the costs of education including "a Parents Charter."

The comments come after Barnardos released a study saying it costs up to €800 to prepare a child for the first year of secondary school.

The Department of Education and Skills could not impose controls on school managements to require the use of generic school uniforms or the introduction of book rental schemes to help reduce costs for parents, the Minister said. It has won concessions from schoolbook publishers, however, and parents could make approaches to schools, said Mr Quinn.

Costs for primary pupils for books, shoes and uniforms ran between €350 and €400, and a first-year student could cost €800, according to the Barnardos survey.


Book rental
The department had been looking into ways to alleviate the problem. "With the recession it is even more of a problem than in the past," said Mr Quinn.

“We have encouraged schools to start a book rental scheme, we have €15 million in this budget and hopefully the same next budget to encourage them to do so.”

He pointed to a code of conduct agreed with the educational book publishers that means they will not republish the books in stock for at least six years.

“I have asked the national parents council to look at ways in which they can, with the schools, move towards generic uniforms,” he said. He advised worried parents to talk to the schools to see if they have a book rental scheme and talk to the National Parents Council.

He was not in a position to impose controls, the Minister said. The school system was unusual in being a public-private partnership.

The Government pays for the teachers, sets exams and develops the curriculum, while on the private side, they provided the management and built the buildings and got the land and were the employers of teachers, he said.

Such changes could be pursued, however, through the the National Parents Council which could raise these issues with the schools’ management.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou MacDonald called on the Minister to bring in a law forcing schools’ boards of management to allow parents to choose cheaper school uniforms.

“The pressure that parents of schoolgoing children are under, facing the cost of sending children back to school is enormous,” she said.

Séamus Healy, Independent TD for South Tipperary, said the high cost of sending children to school followed cuts to supports for poorer families, including the back to school allowance.

"These cuts in the supports for deprived children have taken place at a time when the richest minority in Ireland have seen their wealth rise during the course of the economic crisis," he added.

Education cuts
Meanwhile, Mr Quinn told RTÉ's Drivetime programme said he is resisting cuts to education but the sector will take a €60 million reduction in budget next year.