Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Questions (1026)

Catherine Byrne


1180 Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding the school book scheme; the number of schools that are still eligible for this scheme; the number of schools that are ineligible; the amount of money which will be saved by the Exchequer by abolishing the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30543/09]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

I have consistently said that the 2009 Budget required difficult choices to be made across all areas of public expenditure. These decisions were made to control public expenditure and to ensure sustainability in the long run. In this respect, education, while protected to a much greater extent than most other areas of public expenditure, could not be totally spared. The changes made in relation to book grants were one aspect of these measures.

The key change is that aid for school books is being restricted to schools that have been included within the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) scheme. By limiting the funding to schools within the DEIS scheme, savings of €7.5m will be achieved.

As the Deputy will be aware, DEIS is the action plan for educational inclusion and focuses on addressing the educational needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities. Approximately €7 million was made available in 2008 to DEIS schools at primary and post-primary level for the school book grant scheme; the same level of provision has been made available for distribution to schools in the DEIS programme in 2009. At primary level 673 schools will receive enhanced funding, while at second level 203 schools will benefit.

The continuation of this provision to these schools is testament to the Government's determination to prioritise social inclusion and protect the most vulnerable in our society. There is a need to focus targeted resources on the schools in most need. This is in line with the broad thrust of the recommendations of the Comptroller and Auditor General's 2006 report on Primary Disadvantage.

My Department has encouraged schools to implement book rental schemes as a measure to minimise the cost of school books to all parents. As far back as 1993, a report commissioned by my Department dealt with the factors which contribute to the cost of school text books. The report included useful suggestions for schools, including a Code of Good Practice for successful operation of book rental schemes. I know that many schools have developed such rental schemes. It is open to schools to utilise general capitation funding to fund book rental schemes. It is my intention to move to a situation where instead of a number of separate grants for different purposes a school will get one grant, giving them total flexibility on how to use it.

My Department has issued a circular to schools and Vocational Education Committees, outlining that funding provided to meet day-to-day running costs can be used to provide school books where this is a priority for the school or the VEC. My Department has sought to ensure that schools are fully aware that using any funds provided by my Department for such purposes is not only legitimate but desirable.