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20 million euros would provide free primary school books to all


“Young people don’t just decide to drop out of education. It is not a one day event. It all starts in elementary school, when their parents cannot afford notebooks, textbooks and pens. Already this young child is seen as someone outside the fold – and they are starting to withdraw from education. “

So says Don O’Leary, director of the Cork Life Center, an alternative education setting that offers Junior and Leaving Cert education to children who find themselves outside the mainstream.

He considers it essential to provide free school books and stationery to their students. “Notebooks, textbooks and pens are the bare essentials of education,” says O’Leary. “We provide the books and thus the cost barrier is removed. Young people on the [autism] specter may have organizational problems, so having the books together in the right place at the right time avoids home grades and school journal entries.

“And, perhaps most importantly, the cost of books is outrageous – especially for families who may have three or four children. Books were going from child to child but now with the junior cycle reforms we have to buy new books; old books become useless and can’t even go to a second-hand bookstore.

This week, St Vincent de Paul revealed that it received 6,250 calls about tuition fees – that’s between 250 and 300 calls per day – over the summer, a 5% increase over last year.

It follows a survey by the Irish League of Credit Unions which shows 78% of parents struggle to pay back to school, up from 68% last year, with more than a third going into debt and 24% becoming lenders and paying exorbitant interest rates that can lead them to get into more debt.

Schools only get € 24 per student for the purchase of books, but a book can cost much more

In the Barnardos Tuition Fee Survey, 51% of parents of elementary school students and 46% of parents of high school students said the price of textbooks has increased this year, even though there have been a silver lining: the majority of those who take advantage of a book rental program said the costs have remained the same.

With more schools – especially at the secondary level, turning to digital, iPads or other tablets, as well as textbooks – costs can run up to € 1,000.

“Incredibly expensive”

The textbook rental program is widely cited as an initiative that has helped families but is also causing problems. The question is, as always, a hot topic politically: in mid-September, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills is due to discuss book rental programs and e-learning. .

Moira Leydon, deputy general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, says textbooks can be “unbelievably expensive” at the second level. She and Fiona O’Loughlin, Fianna Fáil TD and chair of the education committee, point out that textbook rental programs can cost schools up to € 200,000 to start.

“Schools only get € 24 per student for the purchase of books, but a book can cost a lot more,” explains Leydon. “It’s totally inadequate, and so many schools have a book rental program for grades one and two only. There is a need to review the efficiency and functioning of the system.

O’Loughlin, meanwhile, says schools should have access to € 20million in seed funding that would allow them to run a book rental program. She also called for a reinstatement of capitation grants for primary schools to 2010 levels, but did not agree to the state providing free textbooks.

“We want to bring new ideas but, under the confidence and the offer, we cannot move forward [suggestions] it will come at a cost to the state, ”she said.

Suzanne Connolly is the Executive Director of the Barnardos Children’s Charity, which is a member of the Children’s Rights Alliance. She hopes a change is on the horizon.

“Children have the right to free primary education, and they’re not getting it yet,” she says. “Progress has been made: book rental programs are available in 74% of primary schools now, up from 50% in 2012. We also want to see the circular from the Ministry of Education in schools, asking that schools do not use notebooks that cannot be transferred from one child to another. And capitation rates must be increased to reduce the pressure of voluntary contributions. “

Barnardos, however, appears to have relaxed his demands. Under former chief executive Fergus Finlay, the organization called on the state to cut primary school spending at a cost of 103 million euros per year and cut high school costs to 126.9 million. million euros per year. Since Connolly took over, she has said they would be happy to see textbooks made free at primary level, at a cost of € 20million per year.

“Given the budgetary requirements, we need to focus on what we think is deliverable at the moment,” she says. “Of course, we would be happy to see the costs reduced at the secondary level – and for education to ultimately be free – but it’s a good first step. Let’s see what is being discussed in the budget; then we will consider our next steps.

Meanwhile, Áine Lynch, president of the National Parents Council, says there are too many updates needed for textbooks and too many textbooks for the same curriculum. She adds that any conversation about textbook costs needs to be seen alongside a conversation about digital technologies.

Alan Cantwell is the Secretary General of the Irish Educational Publishers Association, which represents nine publishers representing over 95 percent of educational material published in Ireland.

He says publishers include resources for junior cycle portfolios as part of the packages, and that cuts costs for parents. But, he adds, producing quality textbooks is time consuming and expensive.

“We strictly adhere to a code of practice agreed with the Ministry of Education and Skills in 2012 that books cannot be revised within four years of publication unless there are changes. in the program.

“In 2018, only 76 titles (2.63%) were revised. When a revised edition of a manual is produced, the old edition will be kept on paper for a period of two years, unless annual sales fall below 500 copies. This means that any edition of a manual will be available for at least six years, assuming market demand. [But] we accept that [first and fifth year] are “bubble” years, where costs can reach 250 to 300 €, depending on the subject. “


The cost of textbooks, as well as uniforms and voluntary contributions, have been covered in numerous articles for this journal for at least 20 years. Here is a small selection of more than 50 messages received from tired parents in recent weeks:

• It costs me € 1,000 to send my son to a local public school: iPad, books, uniform, school shoes, school fees, etc. I should borrow if I had two kids. The system deals with parents and the biggest scam of all is the iPad.

• I live in direct service, not qualified to work, I have three children in school. The youngest is five years old and goes to the older ones: textbooks and copies € 50, uniform € 30, school shoes € 30, school bag € 30, school bag € 8, book rental € 50.50. I am not allowed to work to increase my meager allowance.

• Already € 200 before buying stationery and uniforms. Disadvantaged parents crying in the parking lot while mailing lists.

• Transition year: € 300 costs plus € 250 for books and uniforms. Fifth class: around € 200. Third class: € 60 so far but books will be required in December, while clothes will be € 120-150. Oh and I will be asked for a voluntary contribution of 90 € in the new year.

• My children’s school has a book rental program. Flat rate and reasonable at the beginning of the year. We’ve never had to go to a school bookstore with a long list of books to buy.

• Can you imagine if all the parents came to Phoenix Park in June and threw out their exercise books in one big pile, what would it look like?

• My only child is entering sixth grade, she had to skip the transition year because I couldn’t afford to have her there for a year doing nothing and besides there are trips that I couldn’t not allow me. She has to take a school bus, which increases the cost of her “free” education. In total, I would say that by the time she finishes, I will have spent over € 4,000 for her to finish high school. I am divorced, my ex lives abroad, I receive little support from him because he does not have any, I have just turned 60, I have chronic arthritis, I receive a disability and I work part time. It was really, really hard. Glad to see the end in sight.


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