As the Budget looms, many of the parties involved in education worry, that it is the children of our country, especially the youngest and most vulnerable, who will be hit the hardest. Since 2008, all primary schools have undergone serious reductions in supports and funding. Thurles INTO Branch Chairperson, Ms. Kay Ryan, explained that “Staff, parents and Boards of Management have worked extremely hard to ensure that the effect of these cuts on children’s education were minimised to the greatest extent possible. However, we have been warned that further and ever-more stringent cuts are likely in the Education sector. Children did not cause this country’s economic crisis, and it is unfair that they are the ones who will be expected to pay for the mistakes of wealthy banks and businesses. Never was a good education more vital than now.”
On 29th October, 2008, Ruairí Quinn described the last government’s attempt to increase class sizes as “an attack upon our children, the most vulnerable in our society. It makes it impossible for under-resourced primary school teachers to cherish all the children equally. How can they find the time or make the space to monitor and guide each child? Where, amidst the demands of curriculum and time, will they get the moment to realise that a child — your child or your grandchild — needs extra help or special time?” What a difference a few years and a bank bailout make.
According to the INTO, in North Tipperary, 11.4% of pupils are already in classes which exceed 30 pupils. If there is an increase in class size, this percentage will increase substantially, as many schools will lose at least one, if not two class teachers. This will, in turn, increase the number of students in each class substantially – with that teacher gone, each remaining class may receive four or five extra students, and push many more students into multi-grade classes. We already have the second highest class sizes in Europe – surely the government does not want to push us to the top of this scale?
Parents are being asked to dig deeper into their pockets to subsidise a school system that is under-funded, under-resourced and under-staffed. This is to fund basic school running costs, including the costs of water and oil, as well as providing educational materials that should be fundamental to any school. Without the support of parents, many schools could not afford their art programmes, swimming lessons, or even ICT provision.
“Ireland’s future as a society and an economy depends on what we do now,” Sheila Nunan, General Secretary of the INTO, told the DCTU rally last Saturday. “Make no mistake - every euro cut from the education budget reduces children’s prospects, harms their futures and risks recovery.”
She said the budget would whether the next generation would be well educated or not, engaged citizens or alienated outsiders, employed in Ireland or exported to other lands.
Ms Nunan said Ireland’s child poverty rate was a national disgrace. “This budget must not add educational poverty to its list of shame.”