Child homelessness is an educational crisis too, teachers told

More than one classroom of children becomes homeless every day, says INTO

Richard Bruton, Minister for Education and Science, with Sheila Nunan and Joe McKeown  at the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation’s annual congress in Killarney  on Tuesday. Photograph: Moya Nolan

Richard Bruton, Minister for Education and Science, with Sheila Nunan and Joe McKeown at the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation’s annual congress in Killarney on Tuesday. Photograph: Moya Nolan

 

The Department of Education is failing to address child homelessness and the impact of the crisis is being felt in classrooms across Ireland, delegates at the Irish National Teachers Organisation conference have heard.

In a public address to Minister for Education Richard Bruton, INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said that teachers are increasingly concerned that the lack of a proper and stable home is harming children’s education. Approximately 3,755 children are homeless across Ireland.

“More than an entire primary school class, 35 pupils, became homeless every two days in February,” she said. “School children who are homeless are seriously struggling in school while their teachers struggle to help them to cope. Is it too much to ask for support for these children? What will it take? A classroom of children every day?”

Calling on the Minister to provide additional resources to support homeless children, Ms Nunan said that the department should, at a minimum, provide more guidance and advice to schools. “We’re still waiting for you to recognise that homelessness is an educational crisis too,” she added.

June Tinsley, head of advocacy at children’s charity Barnardos, said that the rising cost of rent is driving more families into homelessness. “The Government must accept that their current strategies aren’t working and take action to stem the tide of child homelessness. Greater preventative measures such as rent certainty and security of tenure must be implemented as an emergency response.”

Complex needs

Speaking to reporters after the conference, Mr Bruton said that schools see a range of children presenting with complex needs, and homelessness is one of these. “There are children who are in and out of homelessness all the time, and guidelines have been issued to schools to give an indication on how best to deal with them. We are always open to improving but we have sought to equip our schools with resource teachers who have the flexibility to deal with children who are presenting with special needs, be it language difficulties or other difficulties that may arise.”

Delegates also told the INTO conference that teachers are ill-equipped to deal with the pace of curriculum reform, which is being introduced without proper resources or in-service training.

Numerous teachers said that curriculum changes should be slowed down and that the increased workload of teachers in the last decade is impacting on their health.

A new language curriculum for Irish and English is being rolled out across primary schools while consultation is under way for a new maths curriculum and a new approach to relationship and sexuality education.

Curriculum overhaul

Meanwhile, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) recently announced plans to consult on the biggest overhaul of the primary curriculum in 20 years, which is likely to see more play-based learning rolled out across the early years.

“Teachers are barely staying afloat with the curriculum overload,” said Muireann Broadrick, a teacher from the INTO’s Navan branch. “The proposed curriculum would cripple the enthusiasm of teachers and cause stress and anxiety.”

Tipperary teacher Brendan Horan said that teachers are facing an overload of bureaucracy and paperwork. “The [Department of Education’s] inspectors are of the view that ‘if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen’. Instead of planning being for the teacher themselves to teach, it is now for accountability purposes.”

Another teacher, Cian Collins, said that teachers are viewed as a social worker, psychologist and secretary in all but name, and are being asked to do more and more for less remuneration.