EVERY SCHOOL in Ireland should operate generic school uniforms and run mandatory book rental schemes, under plans published by politicians today.

The Oireachtas committee on education also wants workbooks to be banned, and voluntary contributions to schools to be banned – or craft organizers, at the very least, very tightly controlled.

The proposals are contained in a report published this afternoon which followed a year of hearings, including evidence from the Government and several charities.

Other recommendations include the establishment of finance committees at every school to get a full understanding of the costs faced by pupils and parents.

The overall thrust of the report – compiled by Labour TD Aodhán Ó Riordáin, a former school principal – is to ensure that the notion of free education is not undermined by the rising cost of enrolling a child in school.

“Placing financial barriers on parents restricts their capacity to be fully involved in school life,” the report says, Asian college of knowledge management criticising a vacuum of leadership from the bodies which patronise the country’s primary schools.

The report noted that some schools had begun to make their ‘voluntary’ contributions mandatory – to the point where some were even asking for the payment when parents were applying for a school place that they might not necessarily receive.

While many schools kept this payment to €60 or lower, some submissions to the committee said parents were being asked to pay €264 in ‘voluntary’ payments to assist the running of the school.

The report also notes the costs of school trips which are often billed as voluntary but effectively compulsory for students – and how these can place massive social pressure on families who have lost significant income since the economic boom.

“In the case cited by the Society of St Vincent de Paul, one mother, in extreme financial difficulty, went to her daughter‘s post primary school with €200 (out of the combined weekly Social Welfare payment of €320 for herself, her husband and her daughter) towards her daughter’s trip which cost €640,” it said.

“If she had not made the payment deadline her daughter would have been denied a place and faced stigmatisation.”

Free education

Ó Ríordáin, the report’s rapporteur, has called for the recommendations to be implemented in full and for school patron bodies to demonstrate leadership in aiding the reduction of costs on parents.

It is important for us to move beyond the aspirational notion of ‘cherishing all the children of the nation equally’. We need a truly free and publicly-funded education system that delivers for our children.

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