The reduction in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance, a payment to assist parents with the additional cost of school uniforms and footwear, has impacted on a wide number of families. In 2013, the scheme assisted 176,000 families in respect of 324,000 children.1 Since Budget 2012, the annual payment has been reduced from €305 to €200 (34 per cent) for children aged 12 years or over and from €250 to €100 (50 per cent) for children aged four to 11 years. In 2014, the Government allocated €46.3 million for the scheme and estimates that it would cost approximately €15.5 million to restore it to its previous rate.2 In 2014, an online survey completed by parents calculated the cost of clothing and footwear for a child going to secondary school to be €260 while clothing and shoes costs for primary school children ranged between €165 and €180.3 This survey also found that 76 per cent of parents with primary school children and 97 per cent with secondary school children had to buy school-specific, crested uniforms which greatly increased the cost.4 In 2013, the Department of Education and Skills circulated a survey to parents to give them the option of greater control over the type and cost of school uniforms.5 However, the Department has not collated results and it will be the responsibility of Boards of Management of each school to consider and act on the results.
The high cost of school books also increases the overall school costs for both primary and post-primary children. In 2014, the average costs of school books varied from €76 to €100 for primary school children but rose significantly to €300 for a first year pupil in secondary school.6 In 2014, the Government allocated €15 million for a school books rental scheme over three years targeted at 531 primary schools which did not operate a book rental scheme.7 Initially, it excluded up to 80 per cent of schools with existing schemes which drew criticism particularly from teachers’ unions.8 The Minister later announced that the remainder of the funding – €8.3 million which had not been allocated following applications from approximately 400 schools – would be divided between all other primary schools with existing book rental schemes.9 However, the cost of school books remains either unaffordable or incredibly difficult for low-income families.
The cost of the school transport scheme for those who are eligible also places a burden on the parents of school going children who live more than 3.2 kilometres from the nearest primary school or 4.8 kilometres from a post-primary school. The annual cost to parents of a primary school going child is €100 or €220 per family for more than one child, while this rises to €350 annually for a child going to a post-primary school or €600 where there is more than one child.10 Following a value-for-money review into the scheme in 2011,11 the Department reduced the operator fees by more than €10 million from the 2008 level; however, the revenue from parental charges increased by almost €3 million in the same period.12 This is despite a reduction in the number of children using the service at both primary and post-primary level.13
Under its agreement with the Troika, the Government agreed to raise the level of third level fees and introduce ‘a more stringent means-test for maintenance grants for Undergraduates’14 making it more difficult for some students on low incomes to afford to go to third level education.
Third-level students living in Ireland who meet certain residence criteria15 can avail of a free tuition fees initiative but have to make a student contribution in the form of a registration fee. In 2009, the registration fee increased from €900 to €1500, 67 per cent in one year; by 2014 the fee had increased to €2500. A 2013 survey on the cost of third level education found that the majority of students received financial support from their parents.16Eighty-four per cent of parents reported that they faced difficulties in meeting these costs while 71 per cent revealed that their family budget had been adversely impacted by the rising cost of registration fees.17 The survey found that due to the increased registration fees, eight per cent of students would not be able to attend college or would not be in a position to remain in college.18
Budget 2013 introduced a three per cent reduction in the income threshold for student grant eligibility.19 Following this measure the number of students in receipt of a grant in the 2013/2014 academic year is almost 15 per cent lower than the year before.20
Figure 8: Number of Higher Education grant holders 2010-14
A 2014 survey of higher-level students highlighted concerns about the clear connection between students’ socio-economic background and financial hardship with 25 per cent of students from families with household incomes below €35,000 indicating that they were in serious financial difficulty, rising to 36 per cent for those with a household income of less than €20,000.21 The survey also noted ‘that the majority of those who benefit from higher education are from the middle and professional social classes’.22 Data on progression rates for new entrants in the 2010/2011 academic year found that 16 per cent across all sectors and qualification levels did not progress to the second year of their course.23 The drop-out rate was higher for males, at 19 per cent compared to 13 per cent of females, while non-progression rates increased for a number of groups from lower socio-economic backgrounds.24 Furthermore, recent statistics indicate that progression rates to third level education are significantly lower for young people from disadvantaged areas; in more disadvantaged parts of Dublin the progression rate is as low as 15 per cent increasing to 99 per cent in the most affluent postcodes.25
Since July 2013, legally resident third-level students who attain Irish or EEA citizenship during the course of their studies no longer have to pay the higher rate for non-EEA students which will significantly reduce the cost of third-level education for migrant students living in Ireland.26 However, young migrants over 18 who have received permission to remain in Ireland but who are not yet eligible for their citizenship will continue to face paying the higher rate of fees. Those who are still in the asylum process are not in a position to go onto third level education.
FLAC urges the Committee to recommend that the State:
Restore the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance for all claimants who qualify.
Ensure that all schools receive the necessary financial support to operate an adequate book rental scheme.
Ensure that transport costs are affordable and will not place an onerous burden on parents of school-going children.
Reduce the third-level student contribution fee and ensure that third-level students are adequately supported to complete their courses.
1 Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton TD, Parliamentary Questions: Written Answers [30246/14], 9 July 2014.
2 Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton TD, Parliamentary Questions: Written Answers [30246/14], 9 July 2014
3 Barnardos (2014) School Costs Survey Briefing, Dublin: Barnardos, p.3.
4 Barnardos (2014) School Costs Survey Briefing, Dublin: Barnardos, p.3.
5 Department of Education and Skills (2013) Circular 0063/2013: Reducing Costs to Parents – School Uniforms, Athlone: Department of Education and Skills.
6 Barnardos (2014) School Costs Survey Briefing, Dublin: Barnardos, p.4.
7 Department of Education and Skills, ‘Minister Quinn announces all primary schools to be offered funding from school book rental scheme capital fund’, [press release], 17 April 2014.
8 Irish National Teachers Organisation (2014) Submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee Organisation on Education and Social Protection, 4 June 2014 available online at: http://bit.ly/INTObookrental [accessed 29 July 2014].
9 Department of Education and Skills, ‘Minister Quinn announces all primary schools to be offered funding from school book rental scheme capital fund’, [press release], 17 April 2014.
11 Department of Education and Skills (2011) School Transport: A Value for Money Review of the School Transport Scheme, Dublin: Department of Education and Skills.
12 Minister for State at the Department of Education and Skills, Ciarán Cannon TD, Parliamentary Questions: Written Answers, [22327/14], 27 May 2014.
13 Minister for State at the Department of Education and Skills, Ciarán Cannon TD, Parliamentary Questions: Written Answers, [22327/14], 27 May 2014.
14 International Monetary Fund (2012) IMF Country Report No. 12/336 - Ireland: Eighth Review Under the Extended Arrangement; Staff Report; Staff Supplements; and Press Release on the Executive Board discussion, Washington DC: IMF, p.59.
15 To be eligible the person must have lived in an EEA member state for three out of the five years immediately preceding enrolment.
16 Irish League of Credit Unions, ‘ILCU 2013 Third Level Education Survey’, [press release], 12 August 2013.
17 Irish League of Credit Unions, ‘ILCU 2013 Third Level Education Survey’, [press release], 12 August 2013.
18 Irish League of Credit Unions, ‘ILCU 2013 Third Level Education Survey’, [press release], 12 August 2013.
19 Student Grant Scheme 2013 (SI 159/2013), Schedule 1.
20 Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn TD, Parliamentary Questions: Written Answers, [28581/14], 2 July 2014.
21 D. Harmon & O. Foubert (2014) Eurostudent Survey V: Report on the Social and Living Conditions of Higher Education Students in Ireland 2013, Dublin: Higher Education Authority, p.15.
22 D. Harmon and O. Foubert (2014) Eurostudent Survey V: Report on the Social and Living Conditions of Higher Education Students in Ireland 2013, Dublin: Higher Education Authority, p.48.
23 Dr V. Patterson and N. Prendeville (2014) A Study of Progression in Irish Higher Education Institutions 2010/11 to 2011/12, Dublin: Higher Education Authority, p.6.
24 Dr V. Patterson & N. Prendeville (2014) A Study of Progression in Irish Higher Education Institutions 2010/11 to 2011/12, Dublin: Higher Education Authority, pp.7-8.
25 J. Humphreys, ‘Some 99% of Dublin 6 students go on to third-level’, Irish Times, 20 August 2014.
26 Department of Education and Skills, ‘Minister Quinn announces changes to third level fees to benefit migrant students’ [press release], 25 July 2013.
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