Monday 16 September 2019

Revealed: How much parents actually pay for 'free' primary education

  • Parents are paying out €46m a year
  • Schools relaying on parents for half the money needed for day-to-day bills
  • Money for heating, lighting, cleaning, insurance, repairs, classroom equipment, printing, stationery, technology and school tours
  • Small and medium-size schools fare worse than large schools
Education Minister Richard Bruton
Education Minister Richard Bruton
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Parents are forking out €46m a year to keep the country’s primary schools running.

Schools are relying on parents and the local community for half the money they need for day-to-day bills.

The massive subsidy to support the State’s ‘free education’ comes from a combination of voluntary contributions and fund-raising activities.

The burden on parents is at odds with Education Minister Richard Bruton’s declared aim to reduce costs, with a directive to schools last year to look at ways to save money on expenses such as uniforms and books.

On average, the State gives a school €46,000 a year for operating costs – but average annual bills run to €91,000.

Most of the €91,000 is eaten up by essentials such as heating, lighting, cleaning, insurance, repairs, classroom equipment, printing, stationery, technology and school tours.

The funding gap between State grants and what principals and boards of management actually spend is laid bare in a new analysis from consultants Grant Thornton.

The stark findings come after years of cuts in State payments to schools – down a total of €110m in the primary sector alone since 2011.

There is a commitment in the Programme for Government to increase funding, but it has not happened yet, and this report puts Mr Bruton under more pressure to deliver on the promise in the next Budget.

The Grant Thornton analysis is based on a sample of school accounts over two years, and was conducted on behalf of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA), which represents about 90pc of primary schools.

The figures show an overall drop in both income and spending between 2015 and 2016 – as boards of management cut their coat according to their cloth: income fell by 4pc and spending was down 2pc.

The Department of Education’s capitation grant to schools – a payment for each pupil – is supposed to cover running costs.

In the primary sector, it stands at €170 for each pupil – down from €200 in 2010 – which, depending on the school size, covers between 42pc and 62pc of general purposes spending.

Small and medium-size schools fare worse than large schools.

According to the consultants, there is “a clear indication that Catholic primary schools in Ireland are facing unsustainable challenges in relation to the funding gap between the level of capitation income received and the day-to-day operating costs”.

The Grant Thornton report is based on a representative sample of 140, or 5pc, of the 2,800 Catholic schools, split into three categories: small, with fewer than 200 pupils; medium, between 201-500 pupils; and large, more than 501 pupils.

In a small school, the capitation grant is worth €26,000, or 42pc of day-to-day spending of €63,000; in a medium school, the average capitation grant of €57,000 meets 51pc of spending; and in a large school the average capitation grant of €114,000 is 61pc of spending.

Schools get other grants, such as for minor works, care-taking, secretarial services, and technology, but the capitation grant is the single biggest source of State funding and is critical for day-to-day operations.

The report warns there is a risk that dedicated income – grants received for specific purposes – may be used by schools to address shortfalls. Anecdotally, there is evidence that schools already dip into money intended for one purpose in order to pay urgent bills.

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