Voluntary school contributions can lead to ‘blackmail’

Department of Education €30m over-budget despite cuts, says Minister

The growing number of students entering schools and colleges this year means the Department of Education will be running about €30 million over budget despite preplanned savings, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said roughly €30 million would be saved through a number of measures, including the 1 per cent reduction in capitation grants; the 1 per cent reduction in core pay for higher education institutions; and an increase in student contribution fees by €250.

But increase in costs of €55 million-€65 million was expected because of demographic changes, and this would feed into discussions for next month’s budget.

The Minister was speaking yesterday at the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection, whose members criticised her and her predecessor Ruairí Quinn for putting an added financial burden on parents and schools.



Charlie McConalogue TD (FF) said pledges by Mr Quinn to reduce the cost of schooling were shown to be “nothing more than a gimmick”. Back-to-school costs had increased over the past three years, and more than €100 million had been “taken out of the pockets of schools and parents” to make up for the cuts in capitation grants.

Ray Butler TD (FG) said he knew of schools withholding keys for lockers until students handed over a “voluntary” contribution of €100.

“It’s scandalous what is going on with these donations. It’s discrimination of the highest order.”

Echoing this view, Jonathan O’Brien TD (Sinn Féin) said the policy had a knock-on effect in terms of bullying in schools, as students who could not pay were identified by other students as being poor or disadvantaged. He accused the department of “washing your hands of this problem”.

Details of students


Mary Moran

(Lab) said she knew of parents’ councils getting details of students who had not paid voluntary contributions and this contributed to the culture of “blackmail”. The committee had previously called for an end to the system of voluntary contributions but Ms O’Sullivan said ,“I don’t know if I can prohibit them.”

She stressed such contributions were permissible provided it was made clear there was no compulsion to pay. But she agreed the committee had raised “very strong and fair points” and the department would see if the policy was being implemented properly.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column