SVP has long been of the view that education is the ultimate enabler out of poverty. The large attendance at the SVP Education Gathering held in SVP National Office is testament to that.
The lack of resources in our education system, and the root causes of educational disadvantage were highlighted on the day, because as we know, it does not begin in education policy alone. Poverty has been consistently linked with poor educational achievement and prospects. It restricts and limits educational participation.
Members who support families with back to school costs report ‘voluntary’ contributions can be significant ranging from €50 up to €200 per academic year. All in attendance agreed that this issue needs to be addressed by the Department of Education and Skills. In SVP’s Pre Budget Submission, ‘Investing in a Just Society’, we advocate that the capitation grant levels be restored to 2010 levels in Budget 2020.
Each year parents spend on average between €75 and €125 per child for primary school children and between €250 and €350 for secondary school children. In some cases, the costs can be substantially higher. SVP social justice have advocated that all children and young people attending non-fee paying schools should have access to free school books.
The use of digital devices in schools have increased in recent years. SVP members are aware of some schools who require a child to buy their own device at a cost of approximately
€700.00. The Department of Education and Skills published the Digital Strategy for Schools in 2017, however, there is no consideration in the plan for the fact that digital school books are liable to 23% VAT in comparison to VAT exemption on printed school books.
One parent family, 4 children. Child starting first year. I-pad €700 and registration fee €250. Voluntary fees for two other children at €180.00 each. (SVP Member)
These costs contribute to financial stress and worry in low income households and can cause a negative and stressed attitude towards education.
The rise in accommodation costs and the cuts and changes to the student grant have made third level more unattainable for low-income groups. Where someone lives can determine the extent and quality of access and supports available to students. The current qualifying criteria for the non-adjacent grant rates was changed in Budget 2011 from 24km to 45km. This puts many students at a disadvantage financially, especially those from outside major urban areas.
Accessibility and affordability need to be to the forefront of policy making if we are to ensure our education system is serving the needs of vulnerable and marginalised groups.
Education and the holding of educational qualifications is now the currency for employment and it is the lack of such qualifications that are major contributors to poverty and social exclusion. Aontas (2013) has found that success in Further Education and Training courses for people who are considered ‘distant’ from the labour market, such as those who are long term unemployed, requires initial positive learning experiences which often stem from low pressure non-accredited courses, allowing the acquisition of soft skills and building confidence. Members regularly report that accessing these types of courses are a barrier for the people that would really benefit from attending.
The Education Gathering highlighted some of the shortcomings in our education system. It also gave an opportunity for SVP members to discuss where improvements could be made to ensure the system is accessible, fair and a path out of poverty. SVP will continue to advocate on these issues to ensure those that wish to avail of our education system are supported to do so.