Members of the Oireachtas meet with ETBs from across the country to hear how the cost-of-living crisis is impacting the education sector

The current school meal scheme allowance provided to schools is unrealistic and is causing the scheme to be unworkable. That’s according to Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), the national representative body of 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs) nationwide.  ETBI represents 277 primary and post primary schools across the country, approximately 125 of which have DEIS status – making them part of the school meal scheme. The call for the revision of the programme comes as a number of ETB schools have reported that current suppliers cannot provide the food to schools at the current rates. There has been no revision of the allowance rates in over ten years.

ETBI – the national representative association for ETBs – held an event in Dublin on 06.12.22, with representation from all 16 Education and Training Boards in Ireland. Members of the Oireachtas attended the event to meet with ETBs and discuss their concerns in relation to how the cost-of-living crisis is impacting the sector, and the breadth of services and additional supports ETBs are providing to learners of all ages free of charge.

Commenting today, Paddy Lavelle, Chief Executive of Education and Training Boards Ireland, said: “A substantial meal in the middle of the day is so important, not just for a child’s nutrition but for their mental and physical wellbeing as well. Many ETB schools across the country running the school meals scheme have reported better attendance rates and a reduction in the number of students arriving late. For some children, this may be the only hot meal they get in a day – so it is vital that we do everything we can to ensure that this scheme stays viable. “There has been no review of the maximum rate of payment under this scheme in over decade, and we are calling on the government today for an urgent review of this. With rising costs across everything from fuel to food – it is not possible for suppliers to provide meals to schools at the current rates. This is causing issues with tendering – as suppliers are no longer applying for school meal tenders, and the suppliers in place are withdrawing from the scheme to mitigate their losses. Funding needs to be adjusted in line with the significant cost increases and rising inflation, so that the scheme can continue to run.”

Wider concerns for the sector 

In addition to the rates allocated for the school meal scheme, ETBI is also highlighting concerns in relation to the allowances provided to Further Education and Training learners. The current rates have not been reviewed since circa 2002.  Paddy Lavelle continued, “ETBI and its member ETBs, are the largest provider of education and training in the state. However, a major barrier to learner access to and participation in further education, in particular disadvantaged learners, is finance – and this has only been exacerbated by the rising cost-of-living. “We’ve heard anecdotally from ETBs nationwide that the rising costs of fuel, in particular, is impacting on learners’ ability to travel to classes. Our FET centres are based in counties across Ireland, many of which are in rural locations where public transport is not always an option. Students are having to take on additional jobs to meet their growing expenses, or in many cases have been forced to drop out of their course.”  “The current allowances are an inadequate contribution to recognising the actual day to day costs of rent, bills, and travel and living expenses.  The rates have not changed significantly in many years, are not reflective of current costs, and are a barrier to potential learners availing of our courses. We are calling for an urgent revision of these rates, so that learners across the country can continue to upskill and reskill.”