Minister for Education Norma Foley TD has today (Wednesday 22 March 2023) announced details of a groundbreaking new scheme which provides free schoolbooks in primary schools and special schools.
More than 558,000 pupils enrolled in approximately 3,230 primary schools, including over 130 special schools, will benefit from the new scheme.
This initiative will provide not only free schoolbooks, but also workbooks and copybooks easing the financial burdens facing families during back-to-school- time.
This funding will also provide schools with an Administration Support Grant to assist with the roll out and implementation of the scheme and to relieve the administrative burden on schools.
The investment of over €50 million significantly increases the funding for school books currently provided to all recognised primary schools in the country and delivers on the commitment in the Programme for Government to extend the free school book pilot, currently in over 100 primary schools in the DEIS programme.
This scheme will ensure that parents and guardians will not be asked to buy or rent any school books, workbooks or copy books as of autumn 2023. The Department is issuing guidance for schools and any school with queries about the scheme can contact the Department directly.
Minister Foley said: “I am delighted to announce details of the funding package of over €50 million secured in Budget 2023 for the landmark new scheme to provide free schoolbooks in all primary schools and special schools.
“This ground-breaking, permanent measure will ease some of the financial burden facing families with the back-to- school costs.
“The scheme will provide, at a minimum, free schoolbooks, workbooks and copybooks for all pupils enrolled in primary and special schools in the 2023/24 school year.
“Around 558,000 children and young people, their families and their schools will benefit from the initiative. The objective of the new scheme is about ensuring every child has the resources required to access education and also easing financial burdens surrounding the back to school costs which can be a cause of financial difficulty for many families each year.
“By providing our primary school children with free school books, we are enhancing their educational experience, not just in the classroom but reaching out into the family home.”
This new scheme means that:
- Schoolbooks, workbooks and copybooks will be provided for all pupils from schools
- There is no need parents or guardians to buy or rent these items
- Schools will be provided with sufficient funding to cover the costs of providing these items
- Schoolbooks are the property of the school and must be returned at the end of the school year.
- Schools will be provided with additional administration support.
To support the administration of this scheme the Department is allocating a grant to primary schools for the 2023/24 school year, based on the size of the school, to assist with any additional work required in order to implement the scheme. Schools may use this grant to employ an individual to carry out administrative work on the scheme.
The Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion, Josepha Madigan TD said “I am delighted to see this Programme for Government commitment delivered, with free schoolbooks for all pupils in primary and special schools. This initiative will help reduce the impact of the rising cost of living and will provide significant support to parents of children with special educational needs who may be attending mainstream primary classes, special classes in primary schools or special schools.
“I am particularly pleased to see the flexibility that is being built into the scheme to cater for children with special educational needs whereby schools are empowered to use funding to purchase related classroom resources to meet the learning needs of the pupils in their class once any cost of providing appropriate schoolbooks, workbooks and copybooks is met. This flexibility is particularly important for students with special educational needs attending mainstream classes at primary and over 19,000 students attending special classes in primary schools and special schools.”
The Department has published guidance for schools and information for parents on how the new scheme will operate. gov.ie/primaryschoolbooks
Notes for Editors
Book rental schemes currently in primary schools
The Department of Education already provides a book grant of some €18.2 million to all recognised primary and post-primary schools within the Free Education Scheme in order to provide assistance for books, including book rental schemes and all schools are encouraged to operate book rental schemes to help alleviate costs to parents.
Primary schools in the DEIS programme receive an allocation of €21 per pupil (an additional €10 per pupil compared to non-DEIS schools.
Over 100 DEIS primary schools have participated in a free schoolbooks pilot since the 2020/21 school year. The schools participating in the pilot receive an allocation of €85 per pupil.
Of the overall €18.2m schoolbook grant, the allocation to primary school is €8.86m in 2022/23 school year This includes €940,592 the 2022/23 school year cost of the DEIS Pilot scheme in 101 DEIS primary schools.
Under the existing book rental scheme it is a matter for the board of management of each school to decide on its own policy in relation to the use of this funding in the school but schools are expected to adopt a cost-conscious approach to the selection of books for use in their classes.
The arrangements in relation to the scheme which currently exists are set out in Circular 46/2013
School book rental schemes can make a very significant difference to the cost of providing textbooks for children and young people. The Department produced guidelines in 2012 for schools on operating school book rental schemes. These guidelines aimed to assist schools in the establishment and running of book rental schemes. The guidelines provided principles of good practice based on the experience of schools and parents’ associations that operated successful rental schemes. In addition at that time the main Irish educational publishers agreed to apply a Code of Practice designed to help reduce the cost of textbooks for parents and schools.
The majority of primary schools operate some form of book rental scheme currently.
Additional funding of €1million provided under Budget 2020 was allocated to 102 primary schools in the DEIS programme, for a pilot programme for the 2020/21 school year. This funding continued for the 2021/22 school year and the 2022/23 school year.
The aim of this pilot was to provide free school books for children in the schools involved, and to support these schools in eliminating the cost of school books for parents. It provided an additional €64 per student to increase the overall book grant rate to €85 per student enrolled in the school.
In order to evaluate the pilot, schools were required to record details of all books purchased and the cost associated with same.
The Department has engaged with some of the schools involved in the pilot and also examined the information received from schools involved in the pilot when developing the proposal for the new scheme for all primary schools in the free education system.
- The Free Book Scheme
The implementation of the scheme will build on the existing school book rental scheme which is available in some 96% of recognised primary schools and on the free school books pilot provided to over one hundred DEIS primary schools over the past three school years.
The scheme has been established on the basis that funds will be provided directly to schools to purchase school books, workbooks, copybooks and where possible some related classroom resources. Schools buy books and resources directly from school book suppliers at present as part of the implementation of the school book rental scheme.
Schools will be permitted discretion in how the free schoolbook grant funding is used on the basis that it eliminates the overall cost of schoolbooks, workbooks, copybooks and where possible, some related classroom resources for parents. Therefore parents must not be asked to purchase schoolbooks, workbooks or copybooks or to make a contribution to the school towards the cost of these items.
The scheme will seek to ensure that value for money is achieved, and that schools will be supported to implement the scheme in a way that has the best learning outcomes for pupils. Schools will continue to have autonomy to choose books that meet curricular requirements.
The books will remain the property of the schools and schools will ensure that, as far as possible, all textbooks are returned at the end of the school year for re-use the following year.
- Guidance Document
A guidance document has been developed for primary schools on how the scheme will operate. The Department has also included the provision of an Administration Support Grant to primary schools to assist with the roll out and implementation of the scheme and to relieve the administrative burden on schools. The guidance is published at gov.ie/primaryschoolbooks
Funding will issue directly to schools in April 2023.
The Schools Procurement Unit within the Department of Education produced guidance in 2017 for schools on good procurement practices.
Schools already have obligations to the National Procurement Guidelines and the law which governs public procurement in Ireland when sourcing goods and services.
The National Procurement Guidelines, developed by the Office of Government Procurement, promote best practice and consistency of application of the public procurement rules in relation to the purchase of goods and services.