In April 2017, I published Circular Letter 0032/2017 which requires school authorities to adopt the following principles of cost-effective practice which will put a greater emphasis on reducing the cost of school uniforms and other costs:
- All elements of a school should be purchasable from various stores;
- Only “iron on” or “sew on” crests should be used;
- Wherever possible, generic rather than branded items should be specified (e.g. uniform, clothing, IT tablets, sports equipment etc.);
- Provide parents with a list of all required items and indicate the likely costs of these required items at best value stores;
- Provide a book rental scheme;
- Phase out, between now and September 2018, the use of workbooks which cannot be reused;
- Where an exclusive supply arrangement applies, it should be tendered for regularly.
- The Board of Management in each school will have to review the cost of items which they require parents to purchases and to make this information available to the school community.
In the Circular Letter I also set out my intention, as resources permit, to reward schools that can provide evidence of having adopted the principles of cost-effective practice. It is intended that this could be done through some premium in capitation grants for schools.
I do recognise the need to improve capitation funding for schools having regard to the reductions that were necessary over recent years. Budget 2018 marks the second year of major reinvestment in the education sector, as we continue to implement the Action Plan for Education, which has the central aim to make the Irish Education and Training service the best in Europe within a decade. In 2018, the budget for my Department will increase by €554 million to over €10 billion. One of the actions of the 2016-2019 Action Plan is to restore capitation as resources permit. Capitation funding remains a priority for me to address as part of the Action Plan.
The process is under way for restoring grant funding that is used by schools to fund the salaries of ancillary staff. Circular 0079/2017 outlines the current rate increases in order to enable schools implement the arbitration salary increase for grant funded school secretaries and caretakers and to also implement the restoration of salary for cleaners arising from the unwinding of FEMPI legislation.
In relation to the timeline for payment of a premium in capitation grants, this can only be determined when there is funding available through the budgetary process for improvements in capitation grants. A decision will have to be taken at that time on whether any such funding should be channelled in the first instance to delivering on the commitment in the Action Plan 2016 to 2019 to restore capitation funding over a 3 year period before looking at premium payments for schools who have adopted the principles of cost effective practice.
When budgetary resources are available to provide a premium capitation payment for schools, my Department will then consider the most appropriate mechanism to gather evidence on whether or not schools have adopted the principles of cost-effective practice.
Issues in relation to school costs will also be dealt with through the Parents and Students Charter, which each school will develop and operate, following the enactment of the Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill 2016.