I am conscious that the cost of textbooks is a considerable burden on families. Since I became Minister for Education and Skills, I have attempted to take steps to reduce the burden on families. Shortly after coming into office, I met members of the Irish Educational Publishers Association and impressed on them the need to limit the cost of textbooks. I also stressed to them the real need to avoid placing schools and families in a position where textbooks are altered unnecessarily. The association responded positively to my approaches and agreed a voluntary code of practice among its members. The code commits the publishers to limit the publication of new editions and to maintaining editions of books in print unchanged for at least six years. The publishers have also given me assurances that they will sell textbooks to schools at discounts so that schools can purchase textbooks in bulk to stock textbook rental schemes. All these developments are welcome. I look forward to seeing the members of the Association implement these commitments. The Department provided approximately €15 million to first and second level schools by way of book grants in 2012. The same level of funding will be provided in 2013.
As the Deputy may be aware I launched new Guidelines for Developing Textbook Rental Schemes in Schools on 28 January last. These guidelines provide practical advice to primary and post-primary schools on how rental schemes can be established and operated. The aim of the guidelines is to help as many schools as possible to start such book rental programmes. The publication of these guidelines followed a survey of schools by the Department, which I published in May 2012. T his had a 99% response rate at primary level, and showed that 76% of primary schools operate a book rental scheme. At second level, the response rate was lower, at 44%. Of those which did respond, 88% of those in the VEC sector and 73% of those in the Community and Comprehensive sector operated a book rental scheme. I believe these results show we have a good foundation to build on across the country. I hope that schools that are not yet operating book rental schemes will be encouraged to use the guidelines to introduce them. If they do, it will result in substantial savings for parents. Schools which already have rental schemes can save parents up to 80% of the cost of buying new books. A special Guide for Parents was also published to inform them of how the schemes operate and how parents can help schools to establish and run them.
I have been very clear in my support for book rental schemes. All of us who are parents know how expensive textbooks can be and what a burden they place on already hard-pressed families at the start of every school year. I am pleased to see the high level of book rental schemes in operation at primary level. I believe these guidelines will encourage this practice across all schools in our education landscape. I published a report on Textbook Rental Schemes in Schools and the Allocation of Textbook Grants by the Department of Education and Skills in May 2012. This report presented four policy options to encourage schools to establish textbook rental schemes. None of the options is ideal, as each involves a trade-off of advantages and disadvantages. I will continue to monitor the number of schools operating book rental schemes and, if necessary, consider further steps to encourage schools to do so. Educational book publishers are independent private companies and are not under the direct control of my Department. Apart from a small number of prescribed texts at second level, mainly in the case of language subjects, decisions on textbooks are taken at school level. Individual schools need to adopt a more cost-conscious approach to the selection of books in their classes.