Government plan to reduce school costs “completely insufficient"

The Pat Kenny Show discussed the serious financial difficulties facing parents around the country this morning

Government plan to reduce school costs “completely insufficient"

File Photo Minister for Education Richard Bruton is to publish rules aimed at reducing the cost of education for parents. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

Charitable organisations have warned that government plans to reduce the costs associated with sending children to school do not go far enough.

The Minister for Education announced this morning that he plans to publish a communication to schools around the country in an effort to reduce the cost of school uniforms and other necessities.

Schools will be expected to implement a range new measures from next September – with the possibility of sanctions for those that fail to do so.

The measures will require schools to stop using workbooks which cannot be reused, use generic uniforms where possible, introduce book rental schemes and provide parents with fully costed lists for required items.

The Board of Management in each school will also have to review the cost of items which they require parents to purchase - and make this information available to the school community.

Completely insufficient

The announcement has been cautiously welcomed by both Barnardos and the society of St Vincent de Paul – however both charities have warned that the measures do not go far enough.

In a statement, the Society of St Vincent de Paul said members regularly visit families that are forced to put off paying bills, sacrifice food and other essential items - or fall into debt - to cover schools costs.

The charity called for the full restoration of the School Capitation Grant - which is paid to primary and voluntary secondary schools, based on the number of pupils enrolled - to pre-crash levels.

Barnardos head of advocacy June Tinsley said the circular is “completely insufficient and lacks any vision or recognition by the State that schools are totally underfunded.”

“We would urge the Minister to make the investments that are needed to truly ensure that schools can run appropriately and all pupils have what they need to learn without sending their parents into debt.”

Barnardos study

A recent Barnardos study - released in August 2016 - found that that cuts during the recession have left parents shouldering the cost of an underfunded school system.

Over 40% of parents who answered the survey said they have to forgo paying household bills or cut back on daily expenses to afford their child’s school costs.  

One in ten families said they had to save throughout the year in order to pay back to school bills – while a further 10% said they had been forced into debt by the outlay.

Image: Barnardos School Costs Survey 2016

The study also found that the majority of parents - 66% in primary school and 79% in secondary school – are asked to pay a ‘voluntary contribution’ to their children’s school.

It found that the amounts parents pay vary wildly in both primary and secondary school.

Most primary school parents pay under €100 - but a third pay far more, with some paying as much as €350.

More than half (55%) of secondary school parents pay over €100 - with some parents reporting one off contributions of up to €850.

Difficult decisions

Pat Kenny was joined by psychologist David Carey and youth and ethics specialist Sheena Horgan this morning to discuss the financial difficulties facing parents today.

Ms Horgan, the presenter of the radio documentary ‘Is Childhood Shrinking?’ said it is the hidden costs of education that leave parents feeling the pinch.

“I think one of those areas - which is still clothing related - is around the extra-curricular activities,” she said.

“There is a lot of pressure on parents and there is a need for children to have these items in order to play whatever that sport or activity is and that is an additional cost that is always hidden - it is never really included and it is very hard to budget for.”

Expensive sports gear

She said there can also be added pressure to provide kids with certain brands and the latest releases from their favourite sports teams – which can include new releases every year in some cases.

Dr Carey said that while “there is no easy way out” when your children are asking for expensive clothes, “sometimes parents just have to stay firm.”

“The most important thing is the reality issue. If you can’t do it then you can’t do it. Going broke and sacrificing the family finances so your child has the €175 pair of runners is not proper parenting,” he said.

“I think it is a very sad comment on society that we would resort to having to go to moneylenders so we can get the right pair of runners for our child.

"Children don’t need material things, they need acceptance, emotional attachment, love, affection and firm boundaries.

“Expect a little bit of a battle and hold firm; in the end children will respect you more for that and they will in turn rear their children one day along the same general guidelines.

He said there are more children looking up at those that have expensive clothes and accessories than children looking down at those that don’t – adding that he knows of nobody who was scarred because their parents said no to them.

“But there are a lot of young people, children, adolescents and adults who have been scarred because their parents gave them everything except the love attention affection and boundaries that they needed along the way,” he said.

You can listen back to the full conversation on The Pat Kenny Show here: