Belfast Telegraph

Underfunding of schools ‘poses threat’ to quality of education

Principals are spending more time on administration and fundraising, a committee heard.

Schoolchildren (PA)
Schoolchildren (PA)

By Cate McCurry, PA

There are growing concerns that continuing underfunding of Irish primary schools pose a potential threat to the quality of education children receive, a committee has heard.

Seamus Mulconry, general secretary of Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA) also said the power to raise or lower the cost of going to school lies with the government and Department of Public Expenditure.

The education committee heard how rising school costs impact on parents and the education system.

Mr Mulconry warned that time spent by principals focused on an “ever growing burden” of administration and fundraising is time not spent teaching and learning.

“The restoration of the full capitation grant is needed as a matter of urgency and as a first step to the proper funding of the primary education system,” he said.

Meanwhile Marcella Stakem, a policy officer at St Vincent de Paul (SVP) said that in the week before schools opened, the charity received around 250-300 calls per day from worried parents relating to back to school costs.

Calls for help to SVP from families struggling with the cost of education increased by 4% this summer.

“This increase comes after we reported a 20% jump in requests for help with school costs in 2018,” she said.

“This is the third year in a row where SVP have seen an increase in calls for back to school help.”

The underinvestment in our education system at both primary and secondary level is directly impacting the most vulnerable in society Marcella Stakem

She called for all schools books in non-fee paying primary and secondary schools to be free, and for the government to end the voluntary contribution scheme by restoring the capitation grant rate to 2010 levels for next year’s budget.

“In addition, engagement with companies involved in providing digital devices and e-books should be initiated to explore additional cost-saving measures,” she added.

“The underinvestment in our education system at both primary and secondary level is directly impacting the most vulnerable in society.

“If children and young people do not have the materials they need to learn, if they do not have access to school books, able to participate in curriculum activities, access to digital devices, they cannot be expected to excel or enjoy educational opportunities.”

Ms Stakem added: “In more recent times, our members have noted an increase in requests from parents where the use and purchase of digital devices is mandatory.”

The charity wants the Department of Education to establish a working group to examine the use of digital devices in schools taking into account the cost impact on parents.

Children are isolated and highlighted amongst their peers because of their parents financial circumstances Paul Rolston

Paul Rolston, director of National Parents Council Post-Primary (NPCPP) said the children in Ireland must have access, at no cost, to secondary education.

“Currently NPCPP receives many complaints from angry parents whose children have been denied school lockers, school diaries, access to daily activities and other basic educational requirements because a parent has been unable to pay a ‘voluntary’ contribution,” he said.

“Children are isolated and highlighted amongst their peers because of their parents financial circumstances.

“Such practice is a disgrace, totally unacceptable and must cease immediately.”

The committee heard how parents are turning to moneylenders and loan sharks to pay for school equipment.

Adrian Flynn, the director of Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Education and Training Board Ireland said: “We cannot ignore the increasing discomfort at the rate of change and unexpected impacts as the use and influence of the various technologies become embedded in our schools.

“While the school environment may provide a space for shared learning and upskilling, many parents and guardians find their own lack of knowledge a further challenge when trying to navigate the digital space inhabited by their children.

Naomi Feely, a policy officer with Barnardos, said that its analysis shows access to book rental schemes for primary schools has grown from 50% in 2012 to 74% in 2019, but remained fairly stagnant around the 40% figure for secondary schools.

“Therefore we urge the Department of Education and Skills to provide further guidance and support given the lag in setting up such schemes in secondary schools,” Ms Feely said.

“Overall, parents of primary school pupils who were required to have a digital device, were paying an average of €80 on book costs compared to 85 euro for the entire sample.

“Similarly those requiring digital devices in secondary school spent 170 euro on books versus 190 euro overall.

“Barnardos recommends the committee explore the pedagogical, developmental and socialisation outcomes on using such approaches in both primary and secondary schools.”

PA

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