Good morning, a Chathaoirligh, other members of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills and colleagues in the education and community and voluntary sectors. Barnardos welcomes the opportunity to address the joint committee on these three important issues. We have made a detailed written submission and provided the text of our opening statement, which I will summarise.
For more than ten years, Barnardos has been highlighting the issue of school costs and their impact on parents through the distribution, analysis and publication of our annual survey. In our submission, we present further analysis of the new 2019 survey data. On textbook rental schemes, funding from the Department of Education and Skills under the school book grant scheme allows schools to run such rental schemes or distribute funding at their discretion to those most in need of support. Our analysis shows that access to book rental schemes for primary schools has grown from 50% in 2012 to about 74% in 2019. However, the figure for secondary schools has remained stagnant at around 40%.
We urge the Department of Education and Skills to provide further guidance and support in light of the delay in setting up such schemes in secondary schools.
In primary schools, 88% of parents contribute less than €100 to the scheme. However, in secondary schools, only four in ten parents stated they contributed under €100, with one third paying between €101 and €150 and one fifth paying more than €150. There is variation in what is included in the schemes. A further disaggregation of cost by class and school year is available in our submission.
Barnardos recommends the provision of free schoolbooks to all primary school children at a minuscule cost of 0.2% of the Department's overall budget as a first step towards realising the right to free primary school education. The infrastructure of the current schoolbook rental scheme provides a mechanism through which to drive this ambition. Given continued sufficient funding, it could be called a schoolbook distribution scheme. It should be available in all schools.
On technology for educational purposes, our survey found that the use of digital devices is more prevalent in secondary schools. A similar finding was made in previous years. The reported proportion in primary schools remains at approximately 14%. However, Barnardos is concerned that 13% of the usage of digital devices was in infant classes, made up of five and six year olds. There was a jump in usage among secondary students from 25% in 2018 to 32%. The costs associated with purchasing a digital device are substantial and may put further pressure on parents if they are required to pay for the device. In primary schools, 93% of parents indicated that the device is provided by the school. In such circumstances, we assume the school pays for the device. However, only a quarter of secondary school parents stated that the school provides and pays for the device. Half of respondents indicated that although the school organises the device, parents must pay for it. The remaining quarter stated that they provided the digital device.
It is unclear whether the purpose of using digital devices is to defray the use of and costs associated with books. If so, that purpose is not being achieved. Overall, parents of primary school pupils required to have a digital device spent an average of €80 on book costs, compared to €85 for the entire population sampled by the survey. Similarly, those requiring digital devices in secondary school spent €170 on books, compared to a spend of €190 within the entire sample. Barnardos recommends that the committee should explore the pedagogical, developmental and socialisation outcomes of using such approaches in primary and secondary schools. The financial impact on parents and schools also needs to be examined.
On the issue of moneylenders, each year parents tell Barnardos of the impact that the cost of getting their child ready to return to school has on their household budget. For many, the cost they must incur means cutting back on household expenses, not paying bills on time, taking money out of their savings or borrowing from various sources. It is worrying that 8% of primary school parents and 14% of secondary school parents stated that they borrowed money to meet the cost. Further analysis of these data showed that 3% of parents indicated that they borrowed money from a moneylender. A review of our survey data from the three previous years indicates that this figure has remained consistent.
On having to buy a digital device, when we disaggregated the data further we found that almost one fifth of secondary school parents required to so do stated that they borrowed money, which is a slightly higher proportion than that within the general survey sample. Some 5% accessed this money through money lenders. Secondary school parents were slightly more likely to take money from their savings in cases where they had to buy a digital device. Barnardos supports the recent recommendation by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul that advertisements for moneylenders should have tobacco-style warnings about the high costs associated with accessing these products.
In conclusion, Barnardos supports the recommendations of the recent report of this committee on school costs and would like to see them fully implemented. I am happy to address any questions from members regarding our submission. If the Chair permits, I will conclude with two quotes from parents because they will provide an insight into the lived reality as distinct from the statistics I quoted. The first quote highlights the impact that school costs have on a household budget:
My son is due to start Secondary School in August...I have to go short in other areas like food etc to pay for everything. I usually shop in the reduced section in supermarkets this (is) an added stress as I have to be careful that I use the reduced meat etc. quick enough...I am very grateful to receive the Back to School Allowance which I should receive today. This money will pay off some of the loans I had to take out in May to buy an iPad, insurance etc.
Although some parents can manage school costs, they are acutely aware that they may be a burden for others. A parent stated:
The amount of fundraising has increased so much in the past 2 years and the school is putting pressure on children to sell tickets and support events. My kids are ok as I can afford to support but there are others who cannot. It is not right that schools have to source so much funds themselves.