Attempts to cut school costs for parents lack vision, charities say
Leading charities have branded the Education Minister's attempts to cut school costs for parents insufficient and lacking vision.
As teaching unions hold their annual conferences and ratchet up pay parity demands, Richard Bruton's office warned principals and boards of governors that they will be penalised if they do not cut the bill for uniforms and bring in book rental schemes.
But Barnardos said primary education could be made free overnight if the will was there.
The charity's chief executive Fergus Finlay told RTE Radio: "How you can have a right that has so many costs around it and still call it a right, baffles us."
The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) said that increased funding for schools would ultimately benefit parents.
"The cost of sending children to school continues to place a very heavy burden on thousands of families already struggling on a low income," the charity said.
"SVP members regularly visit families who often put off paying other bills, fall into debt or sacrifice expenditure on food and other essential items to cover these costs.
"Parents often juggle their low incomes to meet the myriad of demands during the school year for events, exam costs, curricular-based sport and music costs, trips, and equipment."
Mr Bruton's directive, being issued to schools in the coming days, will allow parents to buy uniforms from various stores, use iron or sew-on school crests only and generic sports gear and tablets and other goods.
Schools will have to give parents a list of the required items and a ballpark cost in the best value stores.
Workbooks that can only be used once will also be banned.
It does not include rules on the contentious "voluntary contributions" which some parents feel obliged to make to schools, but the Department of Education said these donations must be voluntary, parents' complaints must be properly investigated and schools must issue statements on how the money is spent.
Barnardos put back-to-school costs last year at 340 euro for a child going into senior infants, to 395 euro for fourth class and 775 euro for first years.
The charity said the minister's efforts do not go far enough and that it would cost a little over 100 million euro out of an eight billion euro education budget - about 185 euro per child - to eradicate costs for sending a child to primary school.
June Tinsley, the charity's head of advocacy, said Mr Bruton's efforts were completely insufficient and lacked any vision or recognition that schools are totally underfunded.
Barnardos said 185 euro extra per child would fulfil the Government's constitutional obligation to provide genuinely free primary education for all children.
"It would cover all school books, school transport fees, classroom resources fees, eliminate voluntary contribution fees and would restore the capitation grants to 2010 levels," Ms Tinsley said.
"If we are truly determined not to allow any child's chance in life to be decided at birth by the income levels of their parents, we need Government investment and nothing less."
The cost-cutting order was announced alongside plans for a parent and student charter to encourage openness on school decisions.