Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Protecting our most valuable assets

Wexford Sinn Féin Back to School Paper 2012


The costs of sending children to primary and secondary school and to third level have increased drastically for parents across County Wexford over recent years. We are a state that claims to provide free education. Article 42.4 of the Constitution states, “The State shall provide for free primary education”.

Yet every year parents are seeing school bills increase as they are faced with an escalating reliance by schools on voluntary contributions from parents, growing costs of school books, over expensive ‘official’ school uniforms which can only be bought in certain premises and a failing school transport network.

Hard to imagine where anyone could get the idea that we have free education in this county!

According to the OECD Education at a Glance report, education spending in Ireland was the fourth lowest among 31 OECD states during the height of the Celtic Tiger boom. When the state had money, our government failed to invest in our children’s education. The Bank of Ireland Life report estimates the cost of education per child, from Junior Infants through to third level at somewhere around €70,000 with €14,000 spent on secondary school education alone.

Clearly it is both parents and their children who are suffering for the failed education policies enacted by successive governments.

2012 Survey

In order to gauge an accurate view of the expenses incurred in sending children to school in County Wexford today, County Wexford Sinn Féin commissioned a survey which was completed by close to eight hundred parents at random locations across the county during the month of July.

The findings of this survey have been summarised here.

89% of parents surveyed find back to school time expensive.

93% 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.

96% 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.

82% of parents surveyed find that the children’s allowance is not adequate to meet the cost of sending children to school in 2012.

61% of parents surveyed are in receipt of the back to school allowance.

52% of parents surveyed said that the introduction of a book rental scheme in all schools would cut education costs.

61% 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.

50% of parents surveyed spend over €350 on back to school expenses. 21% of them spend more than €400.

34% of parents surveyed find school books to be the biggest expense during the back to school period. 33% cited school uniforms, while 13% said footwear and 12% identified school transport as the biggest expense.

32% of parents surveyed believe that the back to school allowance should be available to all parents while a further 29% felt that the back to school allowance should be available to all families but means tested.

9% of parents surveyed are forced to sell personal belongings to finance back to school expenses. Another 9% rely upon loans taken out from the provident and other door to door loan agencies.

41% of parents surveyed find secondary school to be the most expensive period in a child’s education.

44% of parents surveyed believe that recent increases to school transport costs are making the costs of sending their children to school untenable.

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.

Wexford County Council should begin consultation with the Department of Education, every school in the county and suppliers of iPads 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 the last budget and a further 1.5% in February. 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 new 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.

Provide every primary school child in the state with a free lunch meal.

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