Universal School Uniform Policy required to drive down School costs – BREEN

August 3rd, 2012 - Pat Breen

Clare T.D. and Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade Pat Breen said today (Friday) that agreement on a Universal School Uniform Policy is required in order to drive down School cost to help alleviate the burden on hard pressed families. Deputy Breen was commenting following the release a survey by the National Consumer Agency which reveals that 80% of parents are more concerned about school costs than last year.

“The cost of School Uniforms and Books is an issue which arises every year, however, the recent revelation in the National Consumer Survey that 80% of parents are more concerned about school costs this year than last year is testament to the increased financial pressures which many families are now facing.

“While the Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn T.D. cannot force schools to adopt a policy on Uniforms, I very much welcome his commitment to meet with Bernardos, the Society of St Vincent De Paul and the primary and second level National Parents Council, to discuss how this issued can best be addressed. The biggest problem for the majority of parents is that they cannot purchase generic uniforms which are being sold in some of the major stores for as little as €5 as most schools require their pupils to wear uniforms with the school crest, which can cost up to eight times this price.

There are innovative ways in which the cost of uniforms could be reduced. If school crests could be purchased separately this would allow parents to sew them on, thereby reducing costs or alternatively perhaps a local business/supplier could be engaged by the School to sew on the crests. The problem at the moment is that there is no universal agreement on Uniforms. I would ask School Patrons which includes representatives of teachers, parents and trustees and the various Parent Councils to come together and adopt a universal policy on uniforms. The adoption of a school wide policy which takes account of the financial circumstances in which many families now find themselves in is the best way forward and in the absence of such an agreement, parents will continue to be left in a very difficult position.

The Cost of School books is also causing difficulties for families. They can end up costing hundreds of euros for parents each year and the complaints I hear from parents is that books cannot be passed on to younger children and that new editions are constantly being introduced. A positive development in driving down the costs of School Books is the code of practice which was agreed by the Irish Education Publisher’s Association in conjunction with the Education Minister Ruairi Quinn T.D. This Code requires their members to limit new editions by maintaining editions in print unchanged for at least six years. If parents are aware that this code of practice is not being adhered to I would urge them to contact me and I will raise the matter with Minister Quinn immediately after the summer recess.

In relation to the situation where books cannot be passed on to other children, the emphasis of the school curriculum has changed significantly over the years and many of the books now include workbooks as part of the textbook and children have benefitted from the change in learning. However, the fact that the book then cannot be passed on to another child is placing a further burden on parents. If a disposable workbook was provided with the Book it would eliminate this problem. The Book rental schemes operated by Schools could also help defray costs but it appears that while three quarters of our primary schools operate a book rental system, there is a lower uptake in our Secondary Schools. Last May, the Education Minister published draft “Guidelines on Developing School textbook rental schemes” and I would encourage schools to participate in the Scheme.

While all families do not qualify for the Back to School Clothing & Footwear Allowance Scheme; the Scheme provides much needed relief for those qualifying families who are struggling the meet the costs of sending their children. This year some the BSCFA payments of some 115,350 families in respect of 205,125 children issued two weeks ago, which means that 85% of those of who qualified last year have been automatically approved for payment this year. Some 47,000 applications have been received by the Department and acknowledgement as issued by text to the 90% of customers who requested one. Over 19,000 of these claims have been processed and those families have received their decision. I understand from the Department that as of the 27th July they were processing claims which were received on the 9th July. Payment in respect of these claims will issue on a daily basis, so it is expected that the majority of customers will receive their payment within four weeks of applying. A Lo call number is available for families who have queries and they can be contacted on 1890662244. “