Call for students in disadvantaged schools to get extra CAO points

School management body president says equality of access needed in higher education

More work is needed to ensure greater equality of access to third level, the president of the Associaton of Community and Comprehensive Schools has said. Photograph: iStock.

More work is needed to ensure greater equality of access to third level, the president of the Associaton of Community and Comprehensive Schools has said. Photograph: iStock.

 

Students from disadvantaged schools should receive extra CAO points in recognition of the barriers they face, the president of a school management body has suggested.

Paul Fiorentini, president of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, said more work is needed to ensure greater equality of access to higher education.

“We know that social and economic factors influence outcomes. Perhaps we need to realign the scale to reflect the real value or reflection of pupils’ ability or attainment by asking what 500 points in a Deis school represents,” he said.

Mr Fiorentini acknowledged there are existing supports offered through special access programmes for third level, which set aside a proportion of places for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Many campaigners, however, argue that these measures do not go far enough and point to a dramatic differences in college participation rates across affluent and deprived areas.

For example, between 90 and 100 per cent of school-leavers in affluent areas of Dublin progress to higher education, compared to between 20 and 30 per cent in poorer districts.

Mr Fiorentini was speaking at the annual conference of the association, which is the management body for almost 100 secondary schools.

‘Dramatic’ cuts

He also warned that school budgets which should support education are being diverted to cover essential caretaking work due to “dramatic” austerity-era funding cuts. He said a combination of cuts to capitation rates and a freeze on clerical and caretaking appointments had resulted in a “double jeopardy” situation.

“Because clerical functions and caretaking tasks must be discharged to sustain the operation of the school, these roles have been funded from the general school budget, a budget which is already inadequate and which itself suffered an 11 per cent cut,” he said,

“This means that funds which should be invested elsewhere are being diverted to cover essential clerical and caretaking needs. The loss of funding has been dramatic for many of our schools.”

He called for an end to the moratorium and the funding of clerical and caretaking support for schools as an immediate priority. This, Mr Fiorentini said, would allow school leaders meet “their true mission as leaders of teaching and learning”.

Another threat to the quality of education, he said, was the supply of qualified teachers, especially in the greater Dublin area.

Shortages

He said the shortages in subject areas mean some classes end up being left unattended or supervised by an out-of-field teacher or a non-teacher.

“For schools the shortage of teachers remains among the most worrying and frustrating issues that must be managed week in, week out,” he said. “Despite extreme efforts made by principals and boards, far too often schools fail to get even an applicant for vacant positions. And this remains the situation for all types of vacancies ranging from regular part-time to short-term substitution.”

He also expressed concern over the morale of young teachers on lower payscales.

“If we are producing a better prepared, trained, more responsive, flexible teacher then there is a serious question as to how they can be paid differently.”

A solution must lie in providing young teachers with the capacity to earn a living close to the school where they work, he said.

“If a teacher cannot afford to live somewhere adjacent to where they work, there is a loss of social capital to the school and the community in terms of school and extra-curricular and community engagement,” Mr Fiorentini said.