Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Cherishing all the children of the nation equally

County Wexford Sinn Féin Back to School Paper 2013


Never before have so many Irish families found themselves struggling to equip their children to go back to school in September.  A combination of five years of recession, failed government austerity measures and an unwillingness by successive Ministers for Education to tackle the very obvious burdens within the system have created a situation where many parents in County Wexford will borrow, let other bills go unpaid and even cut back on food just to meet the back to school costs.

The Irish Proclamation of 1916 laid out the very progressive ideal that the state would cherish 'all the children of the nation equally'.  A century later, this ideal does not hold up to reality.  Its estimated that one in five Irish children have gone to bed hungry and woke up cold on a regular basis in the past year.

Social benefits like the back to school clothing and footwear allowance and childrens allowance are not sufficient for families who are in serious debt and mortgage arrears.  Despite the best efforts of parents across the land, children are going to school hungry, without proper clothing or equipment.

Article 42.4 of the Constitution states, “The State shall provide for free primary education”.  Clearly this is not the case and it is our children who are suffering as a result.

2013 Survey

In order to gauge an accurate view of the expenses faced by parents of school children in County Wexford today, local Sinn Féin commissioned their second annual Back to School Survey.  The survey was completed by just over four hundred parents from New Ross to Gorey during the months of June and July 2013.

The findings of the survey have been summarised here;

91% of parents surveyed find back to school time expensive

62% of parents surveyed find school books to be the biggest expense during the back to school period.  29% cited school uniforms, while 6% said footwear and 3% identified school transport as the biggest expense.

83% of parents surveyed find secondary school to be the most expensive period in a child’s education.

96% of those parents surveyed felt that any cuts to, or the introduction of means testing to the children’s allowance would impact seriously upon their families.

91% of parents surveyed believe that school crests that could be affixed to a supermarket-bought school jumper should be made available to cut the high costs of school uniforms.

81% of parents surveyed said that the introduction of a book rental scheme in all schools would cut education costs. 

89% of parents surveyed find that the children’s allowance is not adequate to meet the cost of sending children to school in 2012.

56% of parents surveyed are in receipt of the back to school allowance.

57% of parents surveyed said that they would like to see schools switch to using laptops, e-books and iPads in order to cut down on the expense of school books, writing materials and constant updates to the school curriculum.

48% of parents surveyed spend over €350 on back to school expenses.  39% of them spend more than €400.

19% of parents surveyed believe that the back to school allowance should be available to all parents while a further 56% felt that the back to school allowance should be available to all families but means tested.

7% of parents surveyed are forced to sell personal belongings to finance back to school expenses.  Another 13% rely upon loans taken out from the provident and other door to door loan agencies.

Comments from Parents

Its a worry on us from the time they get the holidays.  You're trying to think of what else you could cut out to make sure they have everything they need

Voluntary contributions are not voluntary.  Its just another bill and if you dont pay it, your child is stigmatised

The last two years I borrowed money off the provident but I wont even be able to do that this year.

He ripped his new jumper at the end of September.  We had only been able to afford one.  We went without food to get a new one so he wouldnt be laughed at.  Its like a third world country.

Our proposals;

Stop further government budget cuts to our education system. 

Make school crests that can be easily affixed to supermarket bought school uniform jumpers available.  An average school jumper costs around €60 when its true value is less than a third of this price. 

Establish a book-lending scheme across all primary and secondary schools in the county.  Such a scheme should be centralised and would see books provided free of cost to schools for children’s use.

Abolish the charge for the leaving certificate, junior cert and the mocks.

Extend eligibility for the Back to School Allowance to include all families in receipt of Family Income Supplement in addition to those in receipt of social welfare.

Provide every primary school child in the state with a free lunch meal.  Its been estimated that one in five children have gone to school hungry at some point since the recession began.

Wexford County Council should begin consultation with the Department of Education, every school in the county and suppliers of electronic tablets and similar devices in order to launch Wexford as the first county to go completely over to digital learning.  If the tax on digital devices used for learning was to be removed in line with school books and attempts were made by the state to do a deal with providers of such devices, then digital learning would be considerably cheaper over the course of a child’s education.

Oppose third level fees through any guise and reform the grants system to take into account the real costs of going to college.

End the system where schools are reliant on voluntary contributions from parents by raising the capitation grants to cover the real cost of running a school.  An estimated 76% of parents are requested to make voluntary contributions to schools, amounting to €130 on average per child.  Capitation grants which pay for the day-to-day costs of running the school were reduced by 2% in 2011 and a further 1.5% last year.  These cuts combined with the freezing of the summer improvements scheme is making it increasingly difficult for schools to meet their daily running and maintenance costs.

Abolish the post primary transport scheme which unfairly discriminates against students in relation to where they live.  The cost of school transport should be capped at €100 per year, with free transport for primary school children.

End the state subsidy for private education and cap the salaries of university and college heads at €100,000.

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