Three-quarters of primary school parents are asked to make a voluntary contribution to their child’s school – and in some cases the request is for more than €200 a year, according to a recent survey.
Although the Department of Education stipulates that any such contribution should be voluntary, more than half of those parents said they felt pressured into paying.
The detailed findings of the survey will be outlined to a hearing of the Oireachtas Education Committee exploring the pressures on both parents and schools as a new term gets under way.
Beginning today, the committee’s two-day meeting will focus on the school building programme, green spaces for schools, school staffing and resources and costs for parents.
Committee chair Fiona O’Loughlin said with the arrival of a new school year comes the need to focus on improving the State’s educational provision.
“All parties agree we can and should do more as a society. The committee will seek to identify solutions and areas for needed reform,” she said.
Almost 20 organisations have been invited to make presentations and answer questions, including Government departments, charities, parents’ organisations, school management bodies, principals’ organisations, teacher unions and individual schools.
Among them is the National Parents’ Council Primary (NPC), whose preparations for the hearing included a recent survey of almost 1,800 parents.
NPC CEO Áine Lynch will tell the committee that the findings point to a “significant disparity in the funding to primary schools and the cost incurred in delivering a quality education to children”.
While an increase in the State grant to schools for day-to-day running costs is expected in the next Budget, it remains to be seen how far any of it will go in reducing costs for parents.
Key findings of the survey were that 76pc of parents are asked for a contribution to help with school finances and 54pc of those felt there was pressure on them to pay it. Some 21pc of parents said they were not asked for a contribution and 3pc said they did not know.
While 18pc said the contribution was asked for anonymously, 73pc said it was not an anonymous process and 9pc didn’t know.
The voluntary contribution most frequently sought (37pc) was between €50-€100, while a further 24pc were asked for €100-€150. In 6pc of cases the request was for €150-€200 and in 9pc more than €200. Some 20pc of parents were asked for less than €50 and in 5pc of cases the school did not specify the amount.
While 65pc of parents were given information on how the money was spent, 38pc said they were not.
Where parents were told how the voluntary contribution was used, it was most often spent on school equipment, art supplies and photocopying, but also on other expenses including heating and electricity bills, book rental, swimming lessons and security.
In addition to a voluntary contribution, 83pc of parents said they were also asked to pay towards expenses such as heating and electricity, minor repairs, art supplies swimming lessons and photocopying.
Almost four in 10 parents (38pc) said the school did not make accounts available, 45pc said they didn’t know and 17pc said they did.
Forthcoming legislation on a Parent and Student Charter will require schools to publish a financial statement, which would include information on how any voluntary contributions are used.
The NPC survey is the latest in a series on school costs. Yesterday, the Society of Saint Vincent De Paul (SVP) reported a 20pc increase in calls for ‘back to school’ help this summer. According to SVP, the delay in processing the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance has placed additional pressure on families with limited incomes.