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How Much Do Parents Really Pay For ‘Free’ Primary Education?

For a lot of parents, budgeting for the family can be a big issue; particularly with unexpected costs coming along when you can least afford them. And this doesn’t just refer to broken boilers, and replacing outgrown clothes, but also a variety of charges associated with schooling.

So how much are parents really expected to pay when it comes to apparently ‘free’ primary education?

A new study has been undertaken by Grant Thornton, on behalf of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA), which represents about 90% of primary schools. This reveals that parents are forking out over €46 million a year, to help keep the country’s primary schools running.

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On average, the State gives a school €46,000 a year for operating costs – but average annual bills run to €91,000. This means that schools are relying on parents for half the money necessary to cover day-to-day bills such as electricity, equipment, and staffing; with small to medium sized schools faring worse than larger establishments.

How is this money collected from parents?

Well the most common routes are through ‘voluntary contributions’, which many confirm are far less voluntary than they sound; and through the schools’ fundraising activities. This is on top of expenses for parents such as uniforms, books, and stationary supplies.

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The new analysis is based on a sample of school accounts over two years. It shows the effect of repeated cuts to the education system, down a total of €110 million in the primary sector alone, since 2011. The Department of Education’s capitation grant to schools – a payment for each pupil – is supposed to cover running costs. In the primary sector, this currently stands at about €170 for each pupil (down from €200 in 2010.) Depending on the school size, this covers between 42% and 62% of general spending.

According to those undertaking the study, 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”.

Not ideal in the light of Education Minister Richard Bruton’s promise last year to reduce costs, in part by looking at ways to save money on expenses such as uniforms and books. The minister will be under increasing pressure to deliver increased funding in the next budget, to ease this growing pressure on schools and parents.

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The Grant Thornton report is based on a representative sample of 5% of the 2,800 Catholic Primary Schools in Ireland (140 schools) across three categories:

  • Small (fewer than 200 pupils)
  • Medium (201-500 pupils)
  • Large (501+ pupils)

In a large school the average capitation grant meets 61% of spending, in a medium school the average capitation grant meets 51% of spending; and in a small school the capitation grant is only worth 42% of day-to-day spending. Schools do get other grants, to cover costs such as minor works, secretarial services, and technology; but the capitation grant is the single biggest source of State funding, and is therefore critical for day-to-day operations.

How much do you pay to your children's schools, for voluntary contributions etc? We'd love to hear.


About the Author

Emily is our Digital Editor. She has three awesome nieces, and has accidentally worn the same outfit as them on at least one occasion. Emily likes making things, including hand-drawn cards, and a darn good chocolate cake. She still sounds very English, despite living in Dublin for the last nine years. More insight into the workings of her brain can be found on dancingcakesandsilence.blogspot.com.

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