Saturday 21 September 2019

Children denied school lockers, diaries and class activities for not paying 'voluntary' fees

Isolation: The National Parents Council said children were being denied a locker. Stock: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Isolation: The National Parents Council said children were being denied a locker. Stock: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Allison Bray

Children are being denied lockers and access to daily school activities because their parents can't afford so-called "voluntary" school fees, according to the National Parents Council.

The practice by many schools of requesting payments from parents to augment State funding has led some children to feel isolated and standing out from their peers.

This is "totally unacceptable and must cease", the council said in a submission before the Oireachtas Education and Skills Committee.

The committee yesterday heard from a number of community and education-related organisations on such issues as rising school costs, increased use of electronic devices in the classroom and eligibility for third-level grants.

National Parents Council Post Primary (NPCPP) concerns over the continuing over-reliance on voluntary payments were echoed by several organisations, including leading charities.

In its opening statement to the committee, the NPCPP said voluntary fees were a major bone of contention for many parents.

"Currently NPCPP receives many complaints from angry parents whose children have been denied school lockers, school diaries, access to daily activities and other basic educational requirements because a parent has been unable to pay a voluntary contribution," it said. "Children are isolated and highlighted amongst their peers because of their parents' financial circumstances.

"Such practice is a disgrace, totally unacceptable and must cease immediately," it read.

"Back-to-school and college time at the end of August has become one of the most stressful times for parents with so many costs and charges landing at the same time. Provision to spread any such costs through the year must be made. Many parents now borrow to meet such requirements; others are not in a position to avail of or even approach a reputable lender such as the credit union."

The Society of St Vincent de Paul and the children's charity Barnardos also spoke out against the increasing financial burden being placed on low-income families to educate their children.

The SVP said it fielded between 250 and 300 calls per day from worried parents in the lead-up to the start of the 2019 academic year related to school costs, noting there was a 4pc increase in requests for financial assistance over past year, which itself saw a 20pc increase in such calls over 2017.

It also called for an end to voluntary payments at all non-fee-paying schools.

The Barnardos children's charity also spoke of the annual burden placed on families with school-age children.

"Each year parents tell Barnardos about the impact that the costs of getting their child ready to return to school has on their household budget.

"For many, the costs they must incur means cutting back on household expenses, not paying bills on time, taking money out of their savings or borrowing from various sources," said policy officer Naomi Feely, who noted that 8pc of parents of primary students and 14pc of secondary students had to borrow to fund their children's education.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News