NI Mcilveen Education Minister challenged to pay back-to-school fees
The education minister has been challenged to produce a plan to tackle the “back to school” costs that are pushing more families into debt.
SDLP MPP Daniel McCrossan’s appeal comes after it was revealed that more than a third of parents were in debt over costs such as shoes, gym kits and school supplies.
The figures were included in a new Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) report last week, with some parents paying more than £ 1,000 to send a child to secondary school, and Mr McCrossan is now asking the Minister Michelle McIlveen to do more to address the growing concerns that more families face each year.
“Statistics demonstrate the extent of the executive’s failure to address the challenges facing parents, many of whom are increasingly in debt simply to finance the basic costs associated with their children’s education,” said the MP for West Tyrone.
“It is unacceptable that parents in Northern Ireland are forced to spend more than a thousand pounds per child just to make sure they are properly equipped to go back to school. These costs are particularly incredulous this year, as more families will struggle financially because of Covid-19. Parents have still not been clarified on the arrangements for the upcoming school year and therefore cannot properly plan for their children’s return to school and the associated costs, ”he said.
‘On school uniforms, Northern Ireland only offers a subsidy of £ 35 for primary and £ 73.50 for secondary for children on free school meals, compared to £ 100 in Scotland and newer rules for reducing costs in England and Wales.
“There are also many parents just above the qualifying level of free school meals who receive very little support. “
“These absurd costs to parents amount to a back-to-school tax that hits working-class families hardest, exacerbating educational inequalities.”
“Families need urgent support with these costs and it is up to Education Minister Michelle McIlveen to develop a plan to tackle these issues and give families the support they need and that they deserve. “
The Education Department said that while the uniform grant is not in place to cover the full cost of a school uniform, work is currently underway to review the criteria used to assess eligibility.
“The wearing of school uniforms in Northern Ireland is not governed by law but is up to the schools to determine,” the department said.
“The day-to-day management of schools, including school uniform policy, is the responsibility of the school principals, subject to any directives which may be given by the Board of Governors.
“To help schools develop their policies on school uniforms, the Department of Education has issued guidelines.
“These guidelines advise schools to ensure that their school uniform policy is fair and reasonable, in practical and financial terms, and that schools must take into account their obligations under equality legislation and other laws.
“The guide also recommends that schools consult with parents and students when developing school uniform policy.”
The ministry said the guidelines were revised in June 2018 and all schools were written to remind them of the importance of keeping school uniform costs to a minimum. The guidelines advise schools to ensure that items are available ‘immediately’ at a number of retail outlets so that school uniforms do not become a barrier for children from low-income families attending the school. ‘school,’ the department said, adding that the advice is available on the ministry’s website.
“The Education Authority administers the payment of the School Uniform Grants to provide financial assistance for the cost of school uniforms and physical education clothing for low-income families with children in elementary schools,” post-primary and special. However, the school uniform grant is not intended to cover the full cost of a uniform, but rather is designed to help those in need pay the cost of the purchase.
“Work is already underway within the Ministry to undertake a review of the uniform eligibility criteria for grants,” continued the Ministry.
“The purpose of the review is to ensure that uniform grants are available to support the most vulnerable children in our society and will view current uniform grant rates as a contribution to the cost of school uniforms.”
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