Free schoolbooks scheme may not be ready by September - Principals

The scheme is being rolled out from September to 213,000 students in over 670 recognised secondary schools
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

09.02 25 Mar 2024

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Free schoolbooks scheme may no...

Free schoolbooks scheme may not be ready by September - Principals

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

09.02 25 Mar 2024

Share this article

Secondary schools may not be ready to roll out the free schoolbooks scheme by September, principals have warned.

More than 80% of secondary school principals believe there are not enough supports and information in place for effective delivery of the schools books scheme this year, according to a new survey from the National Association of Principals and Deputies (NAPD).

Only 36% said they were confident in their school's ability to deliver the scheme effectively by the beginning of the new school year.


NAPD Director Paul Crone told Newstalk Breakfast that the NAPD supports "excellent" initiative – but principals need more help to roll it out.

"There is an expectation that principals can navigate the eTenders process," he said.

Mr Crone explained that because the schoolbook figures are over the €50,000 threshold limit, "it puts schools into a position that they can no longer get just three quotes for supply of the books.

"They have to enter into the complex, European-wide eTenders which is a very specialist and complex process.

"School principals don't have that expertise and struggle with the capacity to learn that in time to roll it out by September".


Mr Crone said the process means it is hard to put a timeframe on it.

"You have to register with the platform then you have to design and you have to consult around the development of the tender documents," he said.

"Then it has to be put up online, you have to deal with queries, you have to deal with anything around the tender.

"Then you get back in the tenders, a marking scheme has to be developed, the tender has to be evaluated, you have to negotiate with the preferred tender.

"Once you have the contract done then you can start to place orders".

Support grant

In a statement, the Department of Education said it is committed to providing additional guidance and support.

"Guidance has been developed to assist post-primary schools to implement the scheme in advance of the 2024/25 school year," it said in a statement.

"This was written with the assistance of the education partners and input from other key stakeholders, including schoolbook publishers and schoolbook suppliers.

"In recognition of the additional work to be undertaken in post-primary schools in order to implement the scheme, the Department is allocating an administration support grant to schools for the 2024/25 school year to assist with the additional work.

"Schools may use this grant to employ an individual/s to work for a specified number of days/hours to carry out administrative work on the scheme."

'No margin for error'

Mr Crone said 'guidance' is not enough from the Department.

"As you learn the whole eTenders process it is very, very complex; there is no margin for error in finance," he said.

"As you're learning a process the time it takes, and the possibility that you will make mistakes around that, it's more than guidance - it's specialist, on the ground expertise that's needed.

"The admin grant ideally would be given to an SNA, a secretary or a teacher and our experience is that it's generally a newly-qualified teacher.

"So, to get a 25 or 26-year-old young teacher, SNA or a secretary they wouldn't have that specialist expertise."

The NAPD is calling on Education Minister Norma Foley to appoint an admin officer with specialist expertise to assist schools and ease the admin burden.

Last year, the State introduced free textbooks for primary school students.

The scheme is to be extended to Junior Cert students from September to 213,000 students in over 670 recognised secondary schools.

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Main image: Students carrying bags and books in September 2018. Image: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo/Ben Birchall

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