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COMMENT: Government needs to end ‘voluntary’ contributions in our schools

Monday, 20th May, 2019 7:59am
COMMENT: Government needs to end ‘voluntary’ contributions in our schools

The right to free education is recognised in the Constitution. PHOTO: BIGSTOCK

COMMENT: Government needs to end ‘voluntary’ contributions in our schools

The right to free education is recognised in the Constitution. PHOTO: BIGSTOCK

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Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

THE time has come to end so-called ‘voluntary contributions’ in our primary and secondary schools.

We in the Labour Party believe that the relationship between a parent and school should not be a financial one. Yet it has increasingly become just that. 

There has been a rise in the number of parents paying voluntary contributions with 67 percent of primary and 71 percent of secondary school pupils being asked to contribute.

Half of parents have seen an increase in the costs since last year. It is manifestly unfair to put parents in a position where there are financial blocks put in the way of their children's education. Children have a right to free and fair access to education. In our Constitution, Article 42.4 recognises that right. 

Parents should not be forced to pick up the tab for the failure of the Government to fund the actual costs of educating our children. Voluntary contributions are a marker of an education system which is inadequately funded and they place an unfair burden on families.

We are calling for voluntary contributions to be done away with. The legislation I recently introduced to ban these so-called 'voluntary' contributions – the Free Education Bill - will now move to the second stage in the Seanad. We also outlined costed plans to make primary education free as part of our alternative budget for 2019. 

According to Barnardos’ annual ‘School Costs Survey’ from 2017, 56 percent of primary school parents are asked for a voluntary contribution to help fund schools. Given that our Constitution specifically provides for free primary education for our children, this is an outrageous situation and is becoming an increasing burden for numerous families, many of whom are already struggling with day to day living costs, including high rents.

At the end of the day, the buck stops with the Minister for Education and his Cabinet colleagues. If he has the political will to curtail the spiralling costs of back to school and is willing to commit to free education for all, I have no doubt he would find broad support across the political spectrum.

Parents and children deserve better than this. It’s time for the Government to act.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is the Labour Party spokesperson on Education.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

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