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School books free at primary level next September but exclusion of secondary criticised as 'baffling'

The initiative comes following years of lobbying by parents’ groups and charities.

Image: Shutterstock

Updated Sep 27th 2022, 4:46 PM

THE STATE IS to provide free school books for all primary school students from next September, it has been confirmed in the Budget today. 

The initiative comes following years of lobbying by parents’ groups and charities.

Unlike once-off cost-of-living measures to combat the energy crisis, the school books initiative is to be a permanent measure, with €47 million allocated for the scheme next year. 

During his Budget speech in the Dáil this afternoon, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath said: “We know that buying school books can add further pressure to families at an expensive time of the year as children go back to school. 

“Today, I am providing funding for free school books for all pupils and recognised primary schools within the free education system from September of next year. 

“This measure will benefit well over half a million pupils all across our country and is a reflection of the value we place on an education for all.” 

The Minister confirmed an overall allocation of €9.6 billion to the Department of Education next year.

  • The Noteworthy team wants to investigate if publishers are profiting from new school book editions. Support this project here.

The plans for the free school books was widely reported ahead of the Budget yesterday. 

Responding to the news yesterday morning, chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance Tanya Ward said free school book will make a real difference to many children.

“Free school books was a big part of the #NoChild2020 campaign. Government committed to a pilot then. This Budget will make it national so all children can benefit,” she tweeted. 

Ward added that free school books was “the norm in Europe and in Northern Ireland” and is a “significant measure” to assist in the battle against child poverty. 

Opposition parties have consistently called for a free school books scheme, with Labour saying in June that an emergency cost-of-living budget should include the measure. 

Sinn Féin published a Dáil motion to cut back-to-school costs in July which noted that a free school books scheme has been in operation in Northern Ireland since 1947. 

INTO general secretary John Boyle welcomed the news of the free school books today. 

“We welcome this key cost saving measure which will help so many families across the country and commend those who have pushed government into developing and delivering a pilot scheme and now rolling the scheme out nationally,” Boyle said. 

“This initiative which has been in place in Northern Ireland for many years will help parents struggling with education costs from next September,” he said. 

Gutter Bookshop in Dublin highlighted yesterday that many small Irish bookshops rely on schoolbooks to remain open, and suggested that councils and schools should source the books from such stores. 

Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon has however criticised that the plans exclude secondary school students. 

“It is frankly baffling to see the exclusion of second level students from the measures announced in Budget 2023. The reality is that the cost of sending a child to secondary school is generally much higher than the expense of attending primary school,” he said.

Even those students using traditional schoolbooks often have to buy new editions every year. This removes the option of purchasing them second-hand, passing them on to siblings or availing of book rental schemes. 

Pupil to teacher ratio

McGrath today confirmed a one point reduction in the average pupil teacher ratio to 23:1.

There will be 370 teaching posts created through the reduction of the ratio. 

Reacting to the class size provision announced today, Boyle said that over the past three years, the INTO mounted a grassroots campaign to tackle class sizes. 

“Today, we move yet another significant step closer to our goal of ensuring Ireland’s young children will no longer learn in a class with more than 20 pupils,” he said. 

“We set an ambitious goal of a two point reduction this year in the primary school staffing schedule. As a union, we are conscious of the detrimental impact of the pandemic on primary education,” Boyle added. 

“Government have today met us halfway. However, next year’s Budget must finish the job and ensure we bring our class sizes down to the EU average for once and for all,” he said. 

“We expect the one point reduction announced today to be applied to all primary schools, including Deis schools, from next September.” 

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