Schools struggle to pay for heat and light, INTO conference hears

Richard Bruton threatens to penalise schools that do not cut cost of uniforms and books

Sheila Nunan  and Rosena Jordan  of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation: “We will not tolerate any form of second-class resourcing or funding.” Photograph:  Moya Nolan

Sheila Nunan and Rosena Jordan of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation: “We will not tolerate any form of second-class resourcing or funding.” Photograph: Moya Nolan

 

Schools are struggling to pay for light and heat while hard-pressed parents are forced to hold constant fundraisers to meet the cost of basic supplies including pencils, delegates at the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) conference have been told.

INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said national schools received a capitation fee of just 92 cent per pupil per day to cover their costs, whereas second-level schools receive almost double that.

“Are second-level computers more expensive?” she asked. “Do bigger children need bigger machines? Do they cost more? We will not tolerate any form of second-class resourcing or funding and the next time it happens this union will take action.”

Delegates heard that a 15 per cent cut in recent years meant schools were forced to rely on fundraising and voluntary contributions.

Niall Crofton, principal teacher at St Brendan’s national school in Birr, Co Offaly, said the cost of light, heat and, since 2011, water charges, on top of the cuts, had left them with a €6,000 shortfall each year. He said parents had stepped into the breach, even though the school was designated as a rural disadvantaged school.

“Principals are chasing families to pay the voluntary contribution even though they know they can barely afford it,” Mr Crofton said. “The parents’ association has had to hold golf classics and fashion shows just to pay for their children’s education.”

Kathryn Crowley, a principal in a Dublin school, gave delegates an A-Z of the school fundraising activities needed to keep the gates open, from art auctions to bring-and-buy sales and “zany” dress-up days.

Free education

Their concerns were aired on the same day that Minister for Education Richard Bruton threatened to financially penalise schools that did not reduce the cost of uniforms and books for parents.

June Tinsley, head of advocacy at Barnardos, said the move to reduce costs was a step in the right direction, but schools remained totally underfunded and €103.2 million would guarantee completely free primary education for parents and children.

Alison Connolly, policy officer at Focus Ireland, told the conference that more than 2,540 children were living in emergency accommodation and that half of these children are in national schools.

She said these families were living in “grinding misery” and coming to school tired, without breakfast and often having not been able to do their homework. She said that fewer than half of these children attend Deis schools and so did not benefit from home school community liaison and school completion services.

Ms Connolly called on the Department of Education to recognise the problem and play its part in a cross-departmental strategy to tackle homelessness.

Silent protest

Meanwhile, primary school principals are struggling to find substitutes to provide cover for teachers on maternity and sick leave. The INTO estimates that 800-1,000 substitutes are needed each day, and delegates called for the establishment of a teacher supply panel.

Ms Nunan said international schools were actively and aggressively recruiting Irish primary school teachers to work in destinations including the United Arab Emirates and Canada, where pay and conditions can be significantly higher than in Ireland.

Earlier, Mr Bruton faced a silent protest over the unequal pay structure for new entrants to the profession. He said the department was moving to close this pay gap.

Mr Bruton also said he wanted Ireland to have the best education and training system in Europe within 10 years. In response, Ms Nunan said this could not happen without more investment and resources.