€15m book-rental scheme a 'slap in the face' for schools in greatest need
PARENTS in better-off schools will benefit from state funding for a new book-rental scheme while others in greater need are getting a "slap in the face", according to a teachers' union.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has come under renewed fire after rolling out details of a €15m measure to allow all primary schools to set up a book rental scheme, with a view to cutting costs for parents.
The money is set aside for the estimated 20pc of schools that don't have a rental scheme, and they will get at least €100 per pupil over the next three years to establish one.
That is on top of the standard book grant paid to all primary schools, which currently stands at €21 or €11 a year per pupil, depending on whether the school is in a disadvantaged area.
Mr Quinn is criticised for excluding the 80pc of schools that took the initiative to set up their own scheme, many of them fundraising to do so.
The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) believes schools in better-off areas are less likely to have a rental scheme because of lack of demand from parents who are in a stronger financial position, and these schools now stand to benefit.
Its general secretary, Sheila Nunan, said that it would result in a financial gain for those schools where there was no demand for a scheme.
"This is an example of government policy giving benefit to the better off while failing to look after those in greatest need," she added.
"Many schools have fundraised hard to get schemes off the ground on a phased basis.
"In these circumstances parents will question the wisdom of contributing to school running costs when the State will meet the full costs in schools where a voluntary scheme was not set up."
She said the policy was a slap in the face to parents and teachers in these schools where schemes had been established at great cost and effort.
Children's charity Barnardos welcomed the measure as a step in the right direction.
Its head of advocacy, Catherine Joyce, said the funding must be seen as a step towards establishing a national free school book system for all children in primary and second-level.
Fianna Fail education spokesperson Charlie McConalogue called on the Government to reconsider its decision, which, he said, discriminated against schools that made sacrifices to start their own schemes.
Defending his position, Mr Quinn said it was his aim to ensure that every primary school has a book-rental scheme.
"Therefore, I'm targeting schools with no schemes initially as to include all primary schools would mean that the funding would be so diluted that it would have little impact.
"But, should more funds become available I would like to extend the grants to others."