I propose to take Questions Nos. 144 and 163 together.
A key focus of the Government's education policy is to prioritise investment in favour of those most at risk and to optimise access, participation and outcomes at every level of the system for disadvantaged groups. In 2012, my Department provided approximately €15 million in total to first and second level schools by way of book grants and the same level of funding has been allocated for 2013. Schools participating in DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) receive an enhanced grant under the School Book Grant Scheme. The current per capita rates, as allocated to all schools, are as follows: Primary DEIS - €21; Primary non-DEIS - €11; Post-primary DEIS - €39; and Post-primary non-DEIS - €24. Since becoming Minister for Education and Skills, I have attempted to take steps to reduce the cost burden of textbooks on families. In this regard, I have been very clear in my support for book rental schemes. A survey of schools by the Department, published in May 2012, showed that 76% of primary schools operated a book rental scheme. At second level, and of those which did respond, 88% of those in the VEC sector and 73% of those in the Community and Comprehensive sector also operated book rental schemes. Savings of up to 80% of the cost of buying new books can be made where schools operate rental schemes. This is significant for parents.
I launched Guidelines for Developing Textbook Rental Schemes in Schools on 28 January last. The 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 and, in particular, to encourage those schools that are not yet operating book rental schemes to introduce them in light of the evidence for the potential of savings for parents. 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 also published a Report on Textbook Rental Schemes in Schools and the Allocation of Textbook Grants, compiled by the Department of Education and Skills, in May 2012. This report presented four policy options to encourage schools to establish textbook rental schemes. My Department will continue to monitor the number of schools operating book rental schemes and consider further steps to encourage schools to do so if this proves necessary.
In addition, DEIS schools have been given the autonomy to work within the guidelines for the appropriate use of DEIS funding and to decide how best to utilise DEIS resources, including the DEIS grant, to achieve maximum benefits to the most at risk pupils in line with their DEIS Action Plans and addressing educational disadvantage. Embedded in the Home School Community Liaison Scheme (HSCL), which is available to all DEIS schools, is the belief that parents are the first and most important educators of their child. The HSCL Scheme aims to enable parents to become active participants in their children's learning and to stimulate learning in the home. At primary school level, packs are brought to the parents of infants entering DEIS schools for the first time by the HSCL co-ordinators. These may contain an age-appropriate book, colouring materials, or a simple craft activity. The parents are encouraged to engage in the activity or to read and interact with their child, so that the parent-child learning relationship is developed. As part of the primary to post-primary transfer programme, some HSCL co-ordinators bring a literacy pack to the families of all first-year pupils attending DEIS post-primary schools. Its aim is to improve the child's reading level and general literacy skills helping to maintain the parent-child learning relationship.