We need to do all we can to ‘remove money from the conversation’ when it comes to schools and education, according to the Labour Party.
The party’s education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin was speaking amid reports secondary school books could soon be made free for parents.
The Government is considering extending the free schoolbooks scheme for primary schools into secondary schools and – with Education Minister Norma Foley aiming to introduce the change in next year’s budget.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Deputy Ó Ríordáin said the news is “extremely welcome”.
“What we are trying to do here, I think as a collective in the political system, across government and opposition, is to remove money from the education conversation, because too many parents, when it comes to school life, unfortunately, think about money,” he said.
“So going back to school means talking about finances – can we afford the schoolbooks, the uniform, you know school transport, all these different things. The voluntary contribution, which we think should be banned, the fact that parents’ associations are effectively fundraising bodies – everything comes down to money.”
He said the constant money concerns prevent people who are struggling financially from “fully participating in school life”.
“You are less likely to go to the parent-teacher meeting if you are going to be asked for money,” he said.
“You are less likely to hang around the school gate – you are less likely to fully involve yourself in the school community.”
Earlier on the show, present Ciara Kelly voiced support for the scheme, noting that the plan would offer “as close to equality of opportunity as possible”.
Some texters disagreed, however, suggesting that parents who can afford to pay for books should be left to do so.
Deputy Ó Ríordáin said Irish society needs to “return to that concept and that ethic of free education”.
“It’s not just that conversations are about money,” he said. “It means that the conversations we should be having at school gates, at parent teacher meetings and in the school community about education are not happening as readily as they are with the parents who do have money.
“I think we have to have a kind of a value system in the country that certain things are beyond money – and education and health should be two of those.
“If it is a barrier for people having a full participation in school life, be it a child or be it a parent, then it has to go.”
He said extending the free schoolbook scheme would ensure that schools and parents no longer have to worry about the cost of supplying school books – and can focus on education and child development instead.