I am very conscious that the cost of textbooks is a considerable burden on families. Since becoming Minister for Education and Skills, I have attempted to take steps to reduce the burden on families. Shortly after coming into office I met with members of the Irish Educational Publishers' Association and impressed on them the need to limit the cost of textbooks. I have 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 their 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 assurances to me 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, and I look forward to seeing the members of the Association implement these commitments. The Department provided approximately €15m in total to first and second level schools by way of book grants in 2012 and 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 the 28th 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 follows a survey of schools by the Department, and which I published in May 2012. This 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 & Comprehensive sector operated a book rental scheme. I believe these results show that 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 it places 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 and I believe that these Guidelines will encourage this practice across all schools in our education landscape.
I also published a Report on Textbook Rental Schemes in Schools and the Allocation of Textbook Grants by the Department of Education & Skills in May 2012. This report presented four policy options to encourage schools to establish textbook rental schemes. None of the options are ideal, each one involves a trade-off of advantages and disadvantages. I will continue to monitor the number of schools operating book rental schemes, and if it proves necessary consider further steps to encourage schools to do so.
Educational book publishers are independent private companies 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.