This is the time of year when schools around the country are getting back into the swing of a new academic year. With it comes all the financial pressures we have can expect with a new term – books, uniforms, bags, equipment and outside activities.
But we have also, unfortunately, come to expect those calls for ‘voluntary contributions’ to come from our schools.
These payments are meant to cover the likes of art supplies, copying, stationery and the various other ‘sundries’ that schools need to fork out for every year.
Each year the figures seem to increase and now, with Covid having added extra pressure to Department of Education budgets, schools are finding it all the harder to make ends meet.
But the sad reality is that schools have allowed this ‘voluntary contribution’ system to move the onus for extra expenses from the Department to the parents. By encouraging parents to fork out more and more each year, they are letting the government see there is an alternative to increasing Department budgets.
Some schools even send unfair ‘reminders’ to parents about a charge that is called ‘voluntary’. There is nothing voluntary about a payment that is sought by way of email, text, or an envelope sent home with a schoolchild.
Sinn Fein this week have called for an end to the practice. And they have helpfully suggested the introduction of a law which would put the onus back on schools to make it clear that these payments are voluntary. But, until that becomes law, let us call these ‘contributions’ what they really are – school fees.