Schools forced to consult parents over costs

Schools will have to consult parents over costs as part of legislation that aims to make education more transparent.

Richard Bruton, finance minister, said that the Education (Parents and Students Charter) Bill, published yesterday, would make sure that schools engaged better with parents and responded to their needs.

“The expectations of citizens have changed in how they deal with our public institutions and education must change to meet those expectations. We are fortunate in Ireland to have such dedicated and committed teachers and schools,” Mr Bruton said.

“This will set out the principles to guide how schools, students and parents engage with each other, and will place the student at the centre of school life. The charter is an important step aimed at improving the engagement between students, parents and schools. It will ensure that the interaction between students, parents and schools is always done in an open and progressive way.”

Jim Daly, chairman of the Oireachtas children’s committee, said that the charter would give the government more insight into failing schools.

“These efforts are all about bringing a small minority of schools who are underperforming and not engaging with parents as they should, up to standard with the vast majority of schools in our country who carry out exemplary work for the good of our future generations,” he said.

Under the charter schools will have to provide an annual financial statement explaining how voluntary contributions are spent, then invite feedback from parents on that spending. Mr Bruton said that much of the consultation with parents would be done through online surveys.

Surveys have already begun in some schools on the use of uniforms after many parents said that generic ones would be much cheaper than those embroided with a school crest.

The new legislation will also force schools to disclose the number of complaints they receive and how they are dealt with.

The role of the children’s ombudsman will be expanded and schools will be obliged to consider their recommendations.

Barnardo’s, the children’s charity, said that most parents faced school costs of about €340 this year for each child in primary education and about €800 for secondary students.

In its annual survey released before term began in September, the charity called on the government to reduce the financial burden of sending children to school.

The research, involving 1,475 parents, indicated that those with a senior infant would spend €340, including a voluntary contribution of €85. Families with a child in fourth class will need to spend €395, and the cost of the first year of secondary school is €775 for each pupil.