Norma Foley, the Minister for Education, has said she has “every confidence” an allocation of €96 per student to primary schools to purchase free schoolbooks will be “sufficient”.
Ms Foley announced details of the €50 million scheme on Wednesday which will make free books available to 558,000 pupils in 3,230 primary schools, including over 130 special schools.
At a media event outside Government Buildings Ms Foley described the initiative as “ground-breaking”.
She said it would provide not only free schoolbooks, but also workbooks and copybooks. That, she said, would ease the financial burdens facing families during back-to-school time.
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The high annual cost of schools books has been a long-running issue for parents, especially when they have a number of children attending school. A number of campaigns, including from The Irish Times, have highlighted this ongoing issue.
The Department of Education established a pilot for the free book scheme over the past three years in 100 schools in the State designated as Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (Deis), which are located in areas subject to disadvantage.
Responding to questions as to whether the €96 per pupil would cover the costs of schoolbooks, Ms Foley said the clear data and analyse from the 100 Deis school showed a book grant per pupil of €85 coverall all costs.
There have been suggestions that the cost per pupil will exceed €100. Figures compiled by the Irish League of Credit Unions put the average cost of books at primary level at €110 per pupil, while education publishers have placed the figure at a significantly higher level.
Asked should schools seek contributions from parents if there was a shortfall, Ms Foley said that parents should not be expected to make any contribution.
She said that clear data and analysis from the pilot in the 100 Deis schools had clearly shown that €85 per child was adequate.
“We have added to that,” she said. “I have every confidence that [€96 per pupil] will be sufficient.”
Ms Foley said the funding would also provide schools with an administration support grant to assist with the roll out and implementation of the scheme and to relieve the administrative burden on schools. She said it would ensure that parents and guardians would not be asked to buy or rent any schoolbooks, workbooks or copy books as of autumn 2023.
She said that schools could use their significant experience with the school rental scheme to help them administer the new policy of providing free books.
In terms of any additional administrative burden on schools, the Minister said that extra days of support would be given to schools – for example, a school with over 300 pupils would be allowed an extra five paid administrative days.
The Department of Education already provides a book grant of €18.2 million for book rental schemes to help alleviate costs to parents, an average of €11 per pupil. Until now, primary schools in the Deis programme receive an allocation of €21 per pupil (an additional €10 per pupil compared to non-Deis schools).
Under the new scheme, the books will remain the property of the schools and schools will ensure that, as far as possible, all textbooks are returned at the end of the school year for reuse the following year.