As the Deputy is aware, a working group was set up in autumn 1997 to examine the potential problems caused by the weight of heavy school bags. The group presented its report in July 1998 in which it formulated proposals to alleviate problems associated with the weight of schoolbags. The report acknowledged that many of the solutions belong at local school level and one of the main recommendations related to the need to heighten the awareness of the potential health hazards posed by excessively heavy schoolbags.
In this regard, my Department, at primary and post-primary levels, initiated an awareness raising campaign by disseminating the report, with an accompanying circular, to all primary and post-primary schools. Furthermore, information leaflets and posters were distributed to all schools, highlighting the potential health hazard of heavy schoolbags and outlining a range of local measures that could be adopted in order to alleviate the problem. It is a matter for each school to choose those measures that would be most suited to its individual needs.
Positive action has been taken by many schools. At second level, actions taken by some schools consist of a range of measures, including the provision of lockers, the arrangement of the timetable into double class periods, active liaison with parents and the co-ordination of homework by subject teachers.
If a parent is concerned at ongoing problems with regard to the weight of his or her children's schoolbags, this should be taken up in the first instance with the management authorities of the school concerned. In exceptional cases, where issues remain unresolved and all local avenues of appeal have been exhausted, my Department may, on receipt of the written authorisation of a pupil's parents, refer a complaint to the management authority of a school. Following consideration of the school's response, the case may be referred to my Department's inspectorate for the purpose of making local inquiries. The outcome of my Department's investigations, when completed, is communicated to the parents.