Protestant schools object to cutbacks

 

THE CHURCH of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Most Rev John Neill has accused Minister for Education and Science Batt O'Keeffe of striking "directly at the disadvantaged" by removing the block grant and ancillary funding to Protestant schools.

"The Minister's department is well aware that the Protestant block grant and the ancillary funding has allowed our schools to provide for significant numbers of pupils from families in economic difficulties, including those on the minimum wage or in receipt of social welfare," he said.

He continued: "The so-called 'anomalous situation' was introduced by one of his predecessors in recognition that the small number of Protestant secondary schools existed to provide not only for a scattered community, but also for those for whom the State could not provide 'free schooling' within the ethos of their own churches." The Minister's decision would "damage the delivery of education to the children of the Church of Ireland and other Protestant communities".

At the Church of Ireland Dublin and Glendalough diocesan synods this week, church members expressed dismay and deep concern at implications of last Tuesday's Budget for their schools.

Frances Hill, principal of King's Hospital secondary school in Dublin, said the proposed withdrawal of support services constituted "a major threat to the very existence of some of our schools". She said Budget provisions were in breach of the 1966 agreement between the State and Protestant fee-paying schools. The pupil-teacher ratio at fee-paying secondary schools is to be raised to 20 to 1.

She felt "great concern at comments by Mr O'Keeffe that the different treatment of fee-paying schools was 'symbolic'. I feel threatened by that - that further distinctions may follow." It was "totally unacceptable that these unilateral changes can be made and it requires an urgent response from our church at the highest level".

Rev Norman Gamble, rector of Malahide, criticised "the immoral behaviour of our public representatives" when it came to breaking promises "about our schools".