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'Parents pay hundreds in voluntary contributions but don't know where the money is going'

Sinn Féin is calling for more transparency in these payments.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS rejected calls to allow parents to find out how voluntary contributions are being used in their childrens’ schools.

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

However, Sinn Féin’s education spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien has said that although the payments are intended to be voluntary, ‘the reality on the ground is that parents feel there is an onus on them to pay them’.

“Parents have no idea what the money is being used for,” the TD claimed, adding that services are being withheld is some cases if the fee isn’t paid.

Yesterday, he tabled an amendment to the upcoming Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014, but this was rejected.

“The amendments we tabled would, if passed, had ensured that parents would be given access to information to how schools use monies raised used by taking voluntary contributions from students,” O’Brien said in a statement.

Parents are finding it extremely hard to deal with voluntary contributions and we all know that they are not really voluntary at all, with students being denied access to lockers and extra-curricular activities until they are paid in some cases.

Fine Gael Junior Minister Damien English, responding to the Sinn Féin TD at an Education committee yesterday, agreed with O’Brien that schools need to be accountable, and more transparency is welcome, but said the amendments proposed could result in a massive workload for staff if a centralised administration system was used.

He stressed that the issue is one of concern for Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan, and the collection and use of voluntary contributions will be addressed during the creation of new charter for parents and students.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said that non-fee-charging schools are not permitted to request payment, but voluntary contributions are permissible “provided it is made absolutely clear to parents that there is no question of compulsion to pay and that, in making a contribution, they are doing so of their own volition”.

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.

The Department has no plans to prohibit such voluntary contributions. The draft General Scheme for an Admissions to Schools Bill stipulate that schools will be required to declare that no deposits, fees or contributions will be sought or charged as a condition of application for enrolment or for continued enrolment.

Sean Cottrell from the Irish Primary Principals’ Network said the voluntary contribution is often a last resort due to the years of cuts to the capitation grant, and that often in schools the money is used for one particular project.

Read: Parents feel pressure to pay voluntary school contributions >

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