Written Answers. - Free Education Scheme.

David Stanton

Question:

684 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science the criteria used by his Department to determine eligibility for the free book scheme at second level and exemption from payment of examination fees for second level State examinations respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8200/01]

The scheme of aid towards the cost of school books for necessitous pupils at second level operates in secondary schools in the free education scheme, and in vocational, community and comprehensive schools. The terms of the scheme are the same for each category of school.

A necessitous pupil, for the purposes of the scheme, is defined as a pupil from a family in which genuine hardship exists because of unemployment, prolonged illness of a parent, large family size with inadequate means, single parenthood, or other family circumstances, such as alcoholism, which would indicate a similar degree of financial hardship.

Each year schools and vocational education committees furnish to my Department general details of the number of necessitous pupils assisted in the previous year. Based on these returns the grant is paid by my Department to the individual secondary, community and comprehensive schools and to vocational education committees in respect of vocational schools.

Principal teachers administer the scheme in schools in a flexible way under the terms of the scheme, based on their knowledge of particular circumstances in individual cases. The monetary value of the aid given to necessitous pupils varies. Subject to the terms of the scheme, principals have discretion in the selection of pupils to be assisted and the level of assistance in each case. The means by which such assistance is to be provided by schools to necessitous pupils, for example, financial assistance, vouchers or provision of books on loan or otherwise, is a matter for individual school authorities.

In 2000 a total of £4.552 million was allocated in aid towards the cost of school books for necessitous pupils at second level.

I appreciate the sensitive, responsive and resourceful manner in which the management and staff of schools, particularly principals, operate the scheme.
With regard to the alleviation of entry fees for the State examinations, the position is that for examinations due to be held in the year 2001, students who are covered by the medical card scheme, either directly or as the dependants of medical card holders are not liable to pay fees.
My priority is to target those most in need of assistance and the available funding is concentrated on the removal of fees for those covered by the medical card scheme, who are generally recognised as the most disadvantaged in society.
In future years, and as resources permit, it may be possible to extend the exemption further.