independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Schools will have to allow cheaper uniforms

Hard-pressed parents will save money under new plan

Picture posed: Thinkstock

SCHOOLS face being forced to allow parents opt for cheaper uniforms instead of expensive crested jumpers and blazers under new rules.

Funds may be cut to schools which refuse to comply with proposed regulations designed to help families cope with rising education costs, the Irish Independent has learned.

The school uniforms proposal, coming from Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, means all parents would be allowed to buy lower-cost generic uniforms and choose to buy separate school crests which they can iron or stitch on.

"It means you could buy a generic uniform, spend €3 or €5 on a crest and iron it on instead of spending over a hundred," a source said.

Some schools already allow parents to buy generic uniforms but others insist on crested uniforms from a restricted number of suppliers.

A recent survey by children's charity Barnardos found parents of primary school children were paying as much as €150 for a uniform, with the cost rising to €250 for secondary school pupils.

It said school-specific tracksuits start from around €35, jumpers can cost €40-€60 while coats and blazers cost over €100.

However, while the changes would be welcomed by hard-pressed parents,

the proposals being pushed by Mr Gilmore's office are being met with a lukewarm reception in the Department of Education.

The proposed new rules are being actively discussed at the Tanaiste's office but a Department of Education spokesperson said the idea of linking the rules to the capitation grants given to schools had not been suggested to them. "That has not been discussed with the Department of Education and is not being discussed," the spokesperson said.

Current discussions within the department are focusing on the level of cuts for the Budget. However, the school uniform issue – and the links to capitation grants – will arise as Budget discussions intensify.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn wants to set up parents' charters which would give them a say on uniforms and he does not favour "specific national regulations in relation to types of uniforms and where they are purchased".

"This could prove impractical," the spokesperson said, but other senior sources are adamant the new rules or guidelines will be brought in alongside Budget measures to ease the pressure on families.

And linking the guidelines to capitation grants, which cover the day-to-day running of schools, is being actively discussed as Budget preparations gear up.

Because it will not involve any direct cost to the Exchequer or any new taxes, the school uniform regulations will not strictly be part of the Budget but are expected to be announced alongside it. "It is happening," a senior source close to Mr Gilmore said.

"The department doesn't really want to know about this yet. In fairness it is more concerned about the pupil-teacher ratio and stuff like that.

"This won't be dealt with properly until the last few days (before the Budget). Some of the people in there (the Department of Education) wouldn't want to get into the capitation grant (issue)."

Other Budget moves will also include a national book-rental scheme and other small, low-cost measures that Labour and the Coalition hopes will convince voters they are "very committed to easing the burden on hardworking families".

The introduction of free GP care for the under-fives has already been well flagged with Health Minister James Reilly announcing the proposal during the summer and Mr Gilmore again mentioning it yesterday.

Around 80pc of primary school pupils and 96pc of secondary school students in the Barnardos survey went to schools that require crested uniforms.

However, the proposals being pushed by Mr Gilmore's office could cause friction between the Labour leader and Mr Quinn, one of the most senior ministers in Cabinet.

Mr Quinn favours the creation of a parents' charter "to strengthen the relationships between parents and schools and to clearly set out the rights of parents", his spokesperson said.

LEGISLATION

"Such charters will be underpinned by legislation if necessary. Mr Quinn said that schools should consult parents on matters relating to their children's education and be responsive to the views and concerns of parents.

"A school that listens to the voice of parents will not place requirements on parents in relation to school uniforms against their wishes and, for example, will not require that uniforms must be purchased from a specific supplier.

"The cost of school uniforms is one obvious area where there should be a shared view.

"He believes that requiring schools to have a parent and student charter is a better route to ensuring that schools will interact better with individual parents and with the parent associations generally. A discussion paper on a Parents' Charter is being prepared by officials and will be published in the next few months."

By Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

Irish Independent

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