School cutbacks ‘unsustainable’, officials warn Minister

O’Sullivan told that any further reduction in grants could ‘trigger’ school closures

A briefing document for Minister Jan O’Sullivan describes as a “critical issue” the adequacy of capitation funding, which has been reduced at primary level from €200 per pupil to €173 over the past four years.Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

A briefing document for Minister Jan O’Sullivan describes as a “critical issue” the adequacy of capitation funding, which has been reduced at primary level from €200 per pupil to €173 over the past four years.Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

 

Cuts in the education budget have left some schools in a precarious state and have created an “unsustainable” loss of leadership, Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has been warned by her officials.

In a briefing document prepared for the new Minister, which was released under the Freedom of Information Act, the department describes as a “critical issue” the adequacy of capitation funding, which has been reduced at primary level from €200 per pupil to €173 over the past four years.

Any further reduction in the grant “may create a risk that some schools would not be able to cover critical costs such as insurance or heat and light, the absence of which could trigger school closure”, it says.

More starkly, it warns that a moratorium introduced in 2009 on the filling of middle management posts in schools “has had a significant impact” on the leadership of many schools. “The current position is unsustainable,” it says.

The briefing document, which runs to almost 600 pages, also points out that the increase in the provision of special needs assistants (SNAs) has fallen behind the growth in the student population. Between 2010 and September 2014, the SNA allocation rose by 4.1 per cent but the school population grew by 8.25 per cent.

Allocation

National Council for Special Education

The department also admitted that aspects of its new circular on SNAs “caused concern for parents” and it was considering whether further clarifications were required.

Overall, the department said expenditure to the end of June 2014 was “more or less on target”, citing “possible excesses” in certain areas, the details of which were redacted.

The document also informs the Minister of likely obstacles to the reforms of her predecessor Ruairí Quinn. On the planned revamp of the junior cycle, officials observe that the teacher unions “have become entrenched in their opposition” and engagement with them “will be essential to break the current impasse”.

The department also cites a need to further reduce the number of small schools for both economic and organisational reasons.

Identifying a “lack of management capacity”, it says: “Any diminution in the number of small schools will help but where this does not prove possible an alternative would be . . . encouraging the development of a ‘federal board’ responsible for a number of schools in a locality.” It adds, though, “the manner in which local communities wish to cling to the status quo should not be underestimated”.