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Dublin school criticised for linking 'voluntary contributions' with school tours

A spokesperson for the school said the fee has been written off in the past in cases where families are in financial difficulty.

Image: Shutterstock/KPG_Payless

VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTION FEES in primary schools across the country often cause controversy with many parents saying they feel there is an onus on them to pay up – despite the ‘voluntary’ term.

These payments, generally in the region of €100-€150 per school year, are requested by schools for use in projects or for general upkeep of the school.

One school in Dublin has come under the spotlight after parents received a letter saying their child will not be able to attend the school tour unless the €150 fee was paid.

One parent told this website, ”Of course the school tour has been all that has been talked about in class before the tour and will, as is normal, be talked about and have work associated with it in the days afterwards.

This to me is a blatant naming and shaming exercise of those who haven’t been able to pay and is aimed at pressuring parents to make this payment.

The school in question, St Andrew’s National School in Lucan, has defended its actions saying that no child has ever been excluded from the school tour for a parent not paying the fee.

Chairman of the board of management Reverent Scott Peoples told TheJournal.ie that this is the final of four letters.

“The first letter went out in October – it outlined the school costs and that the school has to be funded through voluntary contribution otherwise we’d have less heat, a lot less light and we probably wouldn’t be insured.

We do invite parents where there is difficulties to contact us. In some cases, the fee is completely written off where there are severe circumstances. But usually we’d always ask that they contribute something.

He added that this final letter which includes reference to the school tour was sent to those who had not responded – either by saying they could or couldn’t pay.

When it was put to him that financial circumstances can be a sensitive area for many, Peoples said, “I accept some people will never discuss their personal circumstances but everybody has to be treated the same.”

Non payment of fees

A spokesperson for the Department of Education told TheJournal.ie that voluntary contributions may be sought from parents provided it’s clear that there is no compulsion to pay and that a child’s place in the school or continued enrolment is not dependant on it.

A key requirement for all recognised schools in the Free Education Scheme, is that the school does not operate a charge, in whatever form, that is in effect a mandatory fee and that is contrary to the principle of not charging fees.

“The manner in which such voluntary contributions are sought and collected is a matter for school management; however their collection should be such as not to create a situation where either parents or pupils could reasonably infer that the contributions take on a compulsory character.

Non-payment of the fee should not result in the child being excluded from any part of the school curriculum or from recreation or other activities where all pupils are expected to take part.

“It is however, permissible for a school to seek payments in respect of extra-curricular activities provided such activities are not obligatory and individual pupils can choose whether or not to participate.”

A parent from the school said that it was not possible to pay the tour cost separately and that the €150 per child must be paid in full.

However, when this was put to Peoples he said, “That was certainly never said to anyone” and he reiterated the point that the school is happy to take any contribution that parents can afford.

Breakdown

In 2015, the government rejected calls to allow parents to find out how voluntary contributions are being used in their children’s’ schools.

However, Peoples said that parents at St Andrew’s National School are informed of exactly where the money is going.

“The fee is €150 a year, it has been at that level for the past 10 years. It’s constructed by three parts – a local contribution by parents coming to €120, the summer trip is €25 and an insurance policy which is taken out on each individual child for accidental hurt is around €5 or €6.”

He added that the insurance is 24-hour cover so it covers time at home also and that parents can access this insurance policy of they need it.

“At the start of the school year the school pays that insurance in advance and seeks to recoup it then.”

Addressing the largest chunk of the contribution fee – the €120 – Peoples said, “It doesn’t go much beyond heating, lighting, insurance and public liability.”

He said the school needs to raise in the region €35,000- €40,000 a year and the fee is agreed by board of management every year.

Read: ‘Parents pay hundreds in voluntary contributions but don’t know where the money is going’>

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