Sometimes a proposal comes along that is so sensible and so modest that you wonder why it doesn’t feature high up the public agenda. Take the proposal made recently by Barnardos: at a very small cost the state could actually provide what it is constitutionally mandated to do:
‘Article 42.4: The State shall provide for free primary education . . . ‘
In its briefing, Providing Free Education for all Schoolchildren, Barnardos proposes that primary and secondary education be made free. They first outline the costs of education that are not covered under the current system, costs that are borne by families.
- School books: The cost of schoolbooks is estimated at €60 million. However, the School Book Scheme only receives a subsidy of €15 million – leaving parents to pay out the rest.
- Voluntary contributions: Based on the Barnardos School Cost Survey 2014, parents are paying €89 million in voluntary contributions and €38.5 million for classroom resources.
- School transport: For a primary pupil availing of school transport, parents pay €100. This rises to €350 for secondary pupils. In total, parents are paying €27 million to transport their children to school.
- Capitation grants: these grants paid to schools on a per pupil basis have been cut by 15 percent since 2010 – or €35 million.
So how much would it cost to make education free? Here are Barnardos’ estimates.
Providing the resources to ensure free primary education would cost €103 million; for secondary education, €127 million. The total is €230 million.
Barnardos is proposing that in 2016, the centenary of that document that mentioned something about cherishing the children, the Government make primary education free. Free secondary education would be phased in over three years.