Voluntary contributions are one of the biggest bugbears of the “free education system”.
At least two out of three schools ask parents the annual question, arguing that government grants don’t cover day-to-day running costs.
Applications vary widely, ranging from around €25 to €500 annually, although parents are not always sure how the money will be spent.
Annual surveys put the average claims at €124 (Irish League of Credit Unions) and €81 (Barnardos) for primary schools and €146 and €124 respectively for secondary schools.
There are also books, uniforms and fundraisers to be supported by parents. It’s a major financial drain on many families and has come under particularly strong focus this year as households grapple with rising living costs.
Aside from the money, the voluntary contribution can be a source of unnecessary tension between parents and schools. Áine Lynch, CEO of the National Parent Council Primary, said “the conversation between schools and parents should be about children’s education, not funding. When parents feel they owe money, it makes going to school more difficult.”
The Department of Education allows certain fees, e.g. B. for books or photocopied material. Schools may also charge for meals/refreshments, provided students are not forced to purchase them, and for activities such as extracurricular learning, school tours and visits to theatres/sports events, again providing students have a choice to participate.
Voluntary donations “are permitted provided that it is made absolutely clear to the parents that there is no obligation to contribute and that they are doing so of their own volition,” said a spokeswoman.
But over the years there have been regular reports of parents saying children have been bullied and families being “named and shamed” if they have not paid.
This week’s OECD Education at a Glance report is a timely reminder of the underfunding of the Irish education system, highlighting that the country spends less per student on secondary primary and tertiary education than the international average.
A 2018 report by consulting firm Grant Thornton for the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA) found that the state pays just 53 percent of primary schools’ running costs, and estimates that parents are making up the $50 million shortfall .
The Society of St Vincent de Paul has commissioned Grant Thornton to conduct similar research in the post-primary sector, and SVP national president Rose McGowan said the findings would advance a campaign for “an education system that is sufficiently funded that the Schools no longer need to collect donations or solicit contributions from parents.”
She said some of the responses from parents conveyed “the pressure that these requests are putting on families. Some parents described how the additional costs such as photocopies, lockers, magazines and other essentials are combined into one payment by the schools along with a parental contribution.
“Many parents described feeling that the payments were mandatory and not voluntary.”
The fact is that the per capita payment to schools is lower than it was in 2010, after a series of austerity-era cuts that have not been fully restored.
The most recent budget hasn’t increased those rates, but it has provided a €90 million energy grant to cover skyrocketing bills, which, if it were to become a permanent payment, would almost close the funding gap.
Schools often credit the need for contribution to heating and lighting. Education Secretary Norma Foley believes the €90m should be enough to pay energy bills and said any school in trouble should return to the ministry.
A ministry spokesman noted that the government will review its position in 2023, “and if additional funds should be required, this will be considered in the light of other competing demands at that time and the level of funds available”.
Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) CEO Páiric Clerkin said it was too early to say if the €90m would be enough. “We’ll have to see how everything unfolds in terms of how schools manage those bills and how schools can continue to stay safe,” noting they may have to manage a possible resurgence of Covid-19.
“The bottom line is that the system has been underfunded for many years,” he said.
Meanwhile, NPC CEO Áine Lynch welcomed Ms Foley’s comment that schools should contact the ministry if they have a problem with their energy bills. “This is the first time it has been suggested that the conversation should be between the department and the school and not between the school and the parents.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/education/free-education-parents-still-feel-under-pressure-to-pay-voluntary-contributions-to-schools-42049796.html Free education? Parents still feel pressured to pay “voluntary contributions” to schools