Thursday, 10 March 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
196. Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on whether back and spinal injuries might be caused to students by lifting heavy schoolbags in inappropriate ways; the action she has taken or will take to address this issue; if she will take responsibility for any injuries caused; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8453/05]
Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin): A working group was set up in autumn 1997 to examine the potential problems caused by the weight of heavy schoolbags. The terms of reference of the working group were to consider the issue of heavy schoolbags and, in particular, the extent of the problem, the factors which contribute to the problem and possible implications of the problem, particularly for the health of pupils. The group was also asked to formulate proposals to alleviate problems associated with the weight of schoolbags. The group presented its report in July 1998.
The group’s report outlined a number of recommendations that had implications not only for my Department but also for schools, parents and publishers. A copy of this report may be accessed on my Department’s website. The report acknowledged that many of the solutions belong at local school level and one of the main recommendations related to the need to heighten the awareness of the potential health hazards posed by excessively heavy schoolbags.
In this regard my Department initiated an awareness raising campaign at primary and post-primary levels by disseminating the report with an accompanying circular to all primary and post-primary schools. Furthermore, information leaflets and posters were also distributed to all schools highlighting the potential health hazard of heavy schoolbags and outlining a range of local measures that could be adopted to alleviate the problem. It is a matter for each school to choose those measures that would be most suited to its individual needs.
Positive action has been taken by many schools. Actions taken by some schools at second level consist of a range of measures including the provision of lockers, the arrangement of the timetable into double class periods, active liaison with parents and the co-ordination of homework by subject teachers.
While the report acknowledges that heavy schoolbags pose a potential hazard it points out that many factors contribute to the problem and it therefore follows that any solution requires action not just from my Department and school authorites but also from parents, publishers of educational books and, indeed, from students themselves. In the circumstances I would not accept that it would be appropriate for my Department to accept responsibility for any injuries purportedly arising from the weight of schoolbags.
197. Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on the conclusion by the report of the working group on the weight of schoolbags that efforts should be made to reduce the size of text books, to split the content into different volumes and to designate resource books that should be used at home in order to reduce the weight of schoolbags; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8454/05]
Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin): 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.
The publication and sale of school books are in the hands of independent commercial enterprises and it is not open to me to compel publishing companies to produce texts in a particular format. However, the attention of educational publishers was drawn to the recommendations for publishers contained in the report of the working group on the weight of schoolbags circulated to all schools in 1998.
One of the main recommendations of the report of the working group was that my Department should initiate an awareness raising campaign on the potential health hazard of heavy schoolbags and, to this end, information leaflets and posters were sent to all schools highlighting the potential health hazard of heavy schoolbags and outlining a range of local measures that could be adopted to alleviate the problem.
Arrangements are currently being made by my Department to issue a further circular on the weight of schoolbags to all schools and a copy of this circular will be forwarded to the Irish Educational Publishers Association.
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