Dáil Éireann - Volume 526 - 21 November, 2000

Written Answers. - Schoolbook Scheme.

450. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the trend for textbooks to have shorter useful lives and the greater expense that this trend puts on families of pupils as well as the added contribution that disposal of old textbooks makes to the waste crisis; if he will take steps to ensure school books are published with longer years of service in mind with a facility perhaps to add supplementary updated information inserts from time to time; and if he will issue guidelines in this regard to schools and publishers while encouraging the establishing of book hire or book loan schemes in schools. [26805/00]

Minister for Education and Science (Dr. Woods): Apart from a small number of prescribed texts at second level, mainly in the case of language subjects, school textbooks are not approved or prescribed by my Department at first or second level. Decisions on which books to use are taken at school level. School authorities have been advised regularly that textbooks should be changed only to the extent that is absolutely necessary. Syllabus planners are conscious of the need to avoid over-frequent changes, primarily in order to minimise increases in the cost burden for parents. Textbooks have to be changed periodically, however, to enable teachers to keep their own and their students' work educationally stimulating and to ensure that content and methodology are kept up to date. It is unavoidable, therefore, that some textbooks will become obsolete over time. I am satisfied, however, that the problem of disposal of unwanted textbooks is minimised to the greatest possible extent by the policies operated by my Department.

[776] My Department operates a grant scheme towards the cost of providing school textbooks for needy pupils in primary and post-primary schools. For the purposes of these grants, a needy pupil is a pupil from a family where there is genuine hardship because of unemployment, prolonged illness of a parent, large family size with inadequate means, single parenthood, or other family circumstances, such as substance misuse, which would indicate a similar degree of financial hardship.

A consultancy report, which was submitted to my Department in 1993, dealt with the factors which contribute to the cost of school text books. The main conclusion of the report was that book rental schemes are the most practical way of limiting the cost of school books to parents.

The report, copies of which were sent to all schools, contains a number of useful suggestions, including a code of good practice for successful operation of book rental schemes. My Department endorses the recommendations and urges school authorities to put in place book rental schemes to the greatest extent possible.

Seed capital grant aid has been provided to schools at second level which are categorised as disadvantaged, which did not already have a loan rental scheme in place and which gave a commitment to arrange for such a scheme, to assist them in the establishment of book loan or rental schemes. The intention is to provide some specific financial seed support for the introduction of book rental schemes in individual schools on an annual basis, for a maximum of six years – five years in the case of five-year cycle schools. It is envisaged that schools which receive seed capital will be in a position to establish sustainable book loan or rental schemes which, after the initial special assistance, will operate on a self-financing basis where ongoing costs will be met by fee income, which can be subsidised in the case of needy pupils from the general book grant scheme allocation.

At primary level schools that opt for book rental schemes are allocated enhanced grants to encourage schools to participate in such schemes. I continue to urge all schools to put in place book rental schemes to the greatest extent possible.