Students ‘hungry and miserable’ in class, conference told

Counsellor services stretched as austerity takes toll on school life, say secondary teachers

Delegates at the annual convention of the Association of Secondary Teachers  Ireland  in  Wexford. Picture: Patrick Browne

Delegates at the annual convention of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland in Wexford. Picture: Patrick Browne

 

The impact of the recession on second-level schools and their pupils, including students going hungry, was spelled out on the third day of the annual conference of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland yesterday.

“I’m sending more and more students to the guidance counsellor because they’re just miserable,” said Ciara Kinsella, a teacher of Irish and history at St Raphaela’s Secondary School in Stillorgan. “This year is the worst I’ve ever seen it. It’s not your typical adolescent stuff. Their parents have lost jobs and in some cases the girls have had no breakfast. They’re hungry.”

Career guidance services in the school are stretched very thin and the school counsellor is “shattered and exhausted”, said Ms Kinsella. In her Irish class, she has 35 students and not enough chairs. “I find myself hoping that students will be absent.”

At St Patrick’s College in Gardiner’s Hill, Cork, teachers Michael Barry and Eleanor Troy say that funds to transition-year and the Leaving Cert Applied programme have been cut.

“These programmes are very important in an area like this where there is a lot of unemployment,” says Mr Barry. “We were already struggling – our school has been operating out of prefabs for nearly 40 years now.”

Ms Troy said that due to the merging of foundation, ordinary- and higher-level classes, teachers were finding it impossible to teach at differentiated levels.

“As always in these situations it’s the most vulnerable students that suffer,” she said.

Noel Buckley from Presentation College, Clonmel, said his students had to go into a lottery to take part in transition year this year.

“Over 40 students wanted to do the programme but we could only give places to 24. Ours is a very diverse school and equality of access is very important to us. It’s heartbreaking to have to turn students away.”

The Leaving Cert Applied is another victim of the cuts and Mr Buckley said several schools in the region had closed down the programme. “We have a number of students from the Traveller community who completed the programme for the first time last year. If we start closing down these programmes those students won’t get a chance.”

The loss of special duty posts in Presentation College has meant there is no longer a staff member responsible for “red flagging” students with increased rates of absenteeism, said Mr Buckley.

“You need someone whose job it is to look at the figures. I did a spot check on a student recently and discovered she’d been absent on 35 days. When I sat her down and asked her what was wrong she burst into tears. She was being bullied and hadn’t told anyone. It was just a spot check. We need someone to do this for all students and to ask the right questions or we’ll miss situations like this.”

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