I propose to take Questions Nos. 41, 45, 50, 56, 58, 59, 61, 63, 64, 66, 71 and 72 together.
I am aware of the report referred to by the Deputies.
I strongly support any measures that can be put in place to reduce costs for parents.
All schools must be sensitive to the financial pressures on parents in making decisions, not just about school uniforms or books, but about any matter that has cost implications for parents.
The Action Plan for Education outlines hundreds of actions to be implemented over the 3 year period 2016 to 2019. Some of the actions as part of the plan are to strengthen the focus on reducing school costs for parents by:
- Restoring capitation funding over a three-year period as resources permit;
- Increasing the financial support for book rental schemes, in order to reduce or eliminate school book costs for parents;
- Issuing a new circular to school authorities and ETBs regarding school uniform policy and other costs and the need to put a greater emphasis on reducing the cost of school uniforms and other costs.
Budget 2017 represents the start of a major programme of reinvestment in education, and the first phase of implementation of the Action Plan for Education, aimed at becoming the best education system in Europe within a decade.
It was not possible to provide additional funding in Budget 2017 in relation to this element of the Action Plan due to the many competing demands for the available funding. However, this commitment remains a priority for me to address during the lifetime of the Action Plan.
I also intend to introduce a stronger complaints procedure and a charter for parents. It is important that schools should consult parents on matters relating to their children's education, including those matters which have cost implications, and schools should be responsive to the views and concerns of parents. In that regard requiring schools to have a parent charter will ensure that schools will interact better with parent associations and with individual parents.
I will shortly seek Government approval for the Heads of a Bill to provide for replacing Section 28 of the Education Act, 1998 and the drafting of principles which will form the framework of a Parents' and Learners' Charter in every school.
I believe that these actions will significantly strengthen the focus on reducing school costs for parents.