Voluntary contributions by parents are permissible provided it is made absolutely clear to parents that there is no question of compulsion to pay and that, in making a contribution, they are doing so of their own volition.
The manner in which voluntary contributions are sought and collected is a matter for school management, however their collection should be such as not to create a situation where either parents or pupils could reasonably infer that the contributions take on a compulsory character.
Apart from those recognised fee-charging second level schools, recognised primary and post primary schools are precluded from charging school fees. Section 64 of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, which was commenced in October 2018, explicitly prohibits the charging of fees or seeking payment or contributions for admission to or for continued enrolment in a school. No charge may be made, in respect of instruction in any subject of the school curriculum or for recreation or other activities where all pupils are expected to take part.
When a child is enrolled in a school certain charges may be legitimately requested such as:
- payment for school books, lockers, text messages or photocopied material provided by the school where the charge is reasonable and simply reflects the true costs concerned; or
- charges for meals and refreshments provided pupils are not obliged to purchase same and can bring their own refreshments to school (e.g. lunchbox); or
- payments in respect of extra-curricular activities provided such activities are not obligatory and individual pupils can choose whether or not to participate.
However, as outlined above such charges may not be used as a condition of admission to a school placement. It is permissible for a school to seek payments in respect of extra-curricular activities provided such activities are not obligatory and individual pupils can choose whether or not to participate.
I believe that schools need to be accountable to parents and we need greater levels of communication, engagement and transparency in how schools serve their communities. Work on the drafting of the Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill 2019 is close to being finalised and I intend to seek Government approval shortly for its publication. It is intended that the Parent and Student Charter will require every school to set out a financial statement, which will include information on how any voluntary contributions are used.