Investigative report

Days of free education are over as parents pay up.

Parents in East Cork speak up about school contributions and how they are now being asked for more than ever as budget cuts leave schools with no other choice.

Research has found that parents are now being expected to pay more to schools due to cuts made by the government. In a country of free education the term free is no longer true when parents are being asked to pay more and more for their children’s education. With the increase of college registration fees and the likely introduction of college fees one must acknowledge the fact that the years of free third level education are coming to an end. However after investigating it becomes obvious that free education stops long before third level is even considered.

One school in Dublin has asked parents to contribute a total of €440 annually per student. Research across 5 schools in East Cork showed that education system was no different here.  Talking to parents and students it soon becomes obvious that the situation is one of great concern.

Possibly the worst offender is St. Aloysius college in Carrigtwohill, Cork. With 649 students attending the school the amounts asked for in voluntary contributions have increased significantly in recent years. Each year a fee of €130 for office costs is expected per student. After this contributions for school activities and maintenance work are added throughout the year. Also included are requests for development funds for science labs and computer rooms. In the past year one parent believes that she has contributed at least €410 to the running of the school. Having had other children attend the same school she believes, “funding at this stage is out of control”. She was never asked for so much during the years of her other children’s attendance. On the 17 April she received yet another letter requesting €120 for her daughter to pre-register for sitting the leaving cert. This contribution, which is due in less than two weeks time, is additional to and not instead of other school fees and exam fees. Angered by this she says, “it has never cost me so much to say ‘yes my child is going to attend school’ I have no idea where this idea came from but this is not acceptable”.

Her daughter Amy* a 4th year student at the school says, “I feel guilty handing notes to my parents but I need to go to school so I have no other choice”.

While the other schools still ask for contributions the amounts differ greatly. St. Mary’s, Midleton ask for just €120 to cover administration costs and rarely ask for more than that.

All these schools are public and not private fee paying schools but in the end it is hard to differentiate. A parent of a child from a fee paying school indicates that once the initial payment is made at the beginning of each year the parent is not asked for any more contributions until the next school year.

This situation could be considered to be fairer on the parents who know at the start that once the fee is paid there will be no further surprises popping up looking for money.

Attempts were made to contact the schools in question – St. Aloysius College, Carrigtwohill, St Mary’s Highschool Midleton, St Colemans Community College Midleton and CBS Midleton.

Unfortunately none of the above were willing to be questioned giving responses such as  “tell us exactly what information you have received?” and “we don’t deal with the media”. Were they trying to hide something or just didn’t have the time it is hard to know.

It has to be said that schools are not entirely at fault budget cuts leave them with no other option. Whether the schools loose subject choices, teachers or facilities is all dependent on the school in question. However schools are doing their best to fight back.

Research released by the ASTI on April 9 details how second level schools may have to introduce charges on students studying certain practical-based subjects. During this research the ASTI found that 12 out of the 20 schools questioned stated that “they would have to seek financial contribution from the parents of  “students taking physics, chemistry and home economics because the abolition of grant aid for these subjects announced as part of Budget 2009”.

Outraged by this ASTI General Secretary John White believes: “The research shows that the cutbacks are not only impacting on tangible resources such as teacher numbers, funding and subject choice, they are penetrating the very soul of the school – the ethos of the school. The research makes it clear that the entire school community will suffer because of the cutbacks – students, parents and teachers.”

Further study revealed that 11 schools stated that budget cuts meant that they would be reducing the subject choice at leaving cert level and nine schools revealed plans to reduce subject choice at for the junior cert cycle.

Should the education system be really run like this though? In other countries systems are different and parents happier. Talking to a parent with children in public education in the UK it soon becomes obvious that there are clear faults in our system.  This parent indicates that she is not expected to contribute to the school apart from voluntary contributions for swimming lessons and school trips”.

This is a complete contrast to here where parents are expected to contribute just for their children to attend.  Where the future of the education system is going is hard to tell. However, it is clear that parents are not going to pay up forever and the government is going to have to make some decisions.

*name changed to protect anonymity.


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