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Principals warn supports not in place for book scheme

The rollout of the free school book scheme for Junior Cycle students is in doubt after a number of secondary school principals have warned that the complicated procurement process could hamper its launch in September.

The National Association for Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) has said that over 80% of its members say the necessary supports and information are not available to deliver the scheme by the start of the new school year.

Just 36% said they were confident in their school’s ability to deliver the scheme effectively by September.

Details of the scheme were announced earlier this month and would see more than 200,000 students in the Junior Cycle years entitled to free books and e-books.

NAPD Director Paul Crone said that while they support the initiative, what is concerning is the extent of work required, particularly around procurement.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, he said: “We acknowledge the huge amount of work that the Department of Education are doing to try and put in place supports and information for schools and that will help to roll it out this year, but that is a sticking plaster – this is a bigger capacity and expertise issue in our schools that we need to grasp, if we are going to continue to roll out high quality education like we do.”

Mr Crone said the process is complicated because public money is being used and the public procurement threshold of €50,000 means anything spent over that figure must go through the European tenders process.

He said this is quite technical and principals are not familiar with it, so training and support will be required.

If the process was handled at department level it would rule out many local book shops, he said, adding that it would be difficult to have one supplier supplying all schools.

“The reality is that it needs to be done at a local level and each school will have a slightly different context,” he said.

“Some schools might be offering taster programmes, other schools might be offering different subjects. So the one size doesn’t fit all schools.”

Mr Crone said the schools under the Education and Training Boards have a head office, which has a procurement office.

He said many of those schools would already have supply frameworks in place and some would be able to draw down from those frameworks.

However, he said schools in the voluntary secondary sector and in the community and comprehensive sector do not have access to that level of support.

He said principals have told him they would do everything they could to try and roll the scheme out, but time is against them.

“What they are telling me is that they are going to cut their holidays short, they are going to work late in the evenings, they are going to do everything they can to try to roll this out but the reality is with time to get tenders in, waiting time, analysis time, learning time, all of that, it’s all very very tight for September.”

Mr Crone has appealed to Minister for Education Norma Foley to consider providing schools with expert administrative support to help ease admin pressures.

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