To be honest: A hard-working mother writes

Our kids might not be in private schools, but we make sacrifices too

Going without: ‘We have given the voluntary contribution’ and more, just like the parents of kids in fee-paying schools.’

Going without: ‘We have given the voluntary contribution’ and more, just like the parents of kids in fee-paying schools.’


We’ve never had much money. My dad was unemployed for a few years so he stayed at home and minded his five kids. My mam earned a pittance cleaning at all hours. It wasn’t the done thing in the 1980s. Some days we didn’t eat much.

Dad emigrated and worked in England for a few years. Mam needed to look after her sister and my granny, who were both sick, so we stayed behind. I was 14, and I knew that Mam was struggling, so I did what any 14-year-old would do: skipped school, smoked cigarettes, kissed boys and drank in the field behind the shop.

I got caught. Mam give me a hiding – the sort of hiding that would have social services at the door these days. I didn’t step out of line again. Education, she said, was the way out. Education was the way to better yourself. She made sure we all went to school. Not a fancy private school, but the nearby community school, where the teachers did their best to help the kids who had a whole army of problems lined up against them. Poverty. Drug and alcohol abuse in the home. No history of educational opportunity. She wanted better for us. She wanted to break the cycle.

Dad’s heart attack came out of the blue, and Mam was broken when he died. She kept on doing her best but she didn’t have a lot of support.

I did well in the exams, but college didn’t figure on my radar: nobody in my family had gone to college and there just wasn’t money. But I was proud to do a course in the Tech, what is now a College of Further Education. I met a trainee mechanic, the love of my life, my wonderful husband.

We are not thick. We read The Irish Times, especially the education pages. We care about education. We want the best for our kids and we instil the importance of learning in them too. But I’m used to our voice not being heard. I send my children to the local community school. I often hear that parents in fee-paying schools “make sacrifices” for their kids. Like I don’t.

I’d make every sacrifice in the world, I’d go without food and clothes, if I thought I could get them a better education in a fee-paying school. But we just don’t earn enough. So it feels like a slap in the face when Fine Gael TDs like Mary Mitchell O’Connor in south Dublin use their energy and influence to ensure private schools take no hit in the budget. My own kids’ school is falling apart and can’t afford heating, and parents have been hit for a “voluntary contribution”. We have given that contribution and more, sacrificing a foreign holiday – just like the parents of kids in fee-paying schools – in order to do so.

Now we’ve been told that the State won’t certify the Junior Cert any more. Will the certification from my children’s disadvantaged school be given the same merit as one from the nearby Belvedere College? Or will, once again, those with the money and influence be able to buy a better qualification, while equally hard-working kids lose out? This rotten system is stacked, and it sucks.

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