Stakeholders in education should unite against the divide and rule strategy
Opinion: Labour trying to pose as if it is no more than an interested bystander
Divide and conquer. It’s the oldest trick in the book, and you know why? A lot of the time it works. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has hinted at cuts amounting to €100 million in the next budget.
Ironically, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection last June issued a report prepared by Labour Party TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin called Tackling Back to School Costs. It might have been better occupied issuing a report called Tackling the Costs of Recent Educational Cutbacks.
While some of the report’s recommendations had merit, many exhibited a profound disconnection from the reality of life in schools.
For example, it says: “It is essential that policymakers, school managers and patrons revert to the aspiration of delivering a system of free education.”
Who could those irresponsible policymakers be who have parted from the ideal of free education? Any chance they are headed by a Labour Minister for Education?
The Labour Party has mastered the art of acting like uninvolved but interested bystanders, rather than key players in educational funding decisions. (I am not an uninvolved bystander either: I teach at second level, although in this column I speak for no one but myself.)
The report states that many parents are finding that their relationship with school is increasingly a financial rather than an educational one. Schools are therefore painted as deliberately trying to frustrate parents’ educational hopes for their children.
The reality is that school managers are desperately trying to keep schools functioning while starved of resources.
Pretending that schools are the villains is a divide-and-conquer tactic that removes the spotlight from decisions taken by successive governments.
For example, Tackling Back to School Costs suggests the immediate abolition of parental voluntary contributions. No one would be happier to do so than schools, but what would fill the gap?
There is no such thing as “free education”. Someone has to pay. If you mean education that is free at the point of delivery and that is fully funded by the State, schools would like nothing better.
Fundraising is a nightmare. No school manager or board of management wants to do it, particularly in a recession. Few institutions in the country are as aware as schools are of the pressures and chronic anxiety parents face. But what option do schools have?
The shortfall existed long before the recession, although it is much worse now. Take the voluntary second-level system – more than half of second-level schools.
Research by the Joint Managerial Body shows that voluntary secondary schools are forced to fundraise €3 out of every €10 spent on essentials in schools. There has been an 11 per cent cut in the grant per student in the last five years, when every other cost, from electricity to insurance, has gone up. The average 400-pupil secondary school lost €12,400 in funding.