It was very hard to determine on Budget day what the true impact would be on our education system. Since then however all details have emerged. Minister Lenihen’s first budget was and is a direct attack on the old, the sick and the young.
Tonight I take the opportunity to speak for the younger generation. The students of today will be the leaders of tomorrow. The only way this Country’s economy will get back off its knees is by ensuring every pupil; every student has the best educational system on offer.
This evening I want to highlight the plight of St. Flannan’s College, Ennis and Colaiste Muire, Ennis.
St. Flannans College of which I am a past pupil has an outstanding record of providing a top class educational product to all students. St. Flannans not only produces students who are leaders in academic fields but also in the sporting fields being a renowned academy for hurling in particular. Past Pupils include names like Jamsie O’Connor now a teacher there, Anthony Daly, Davy Fitzgerald and John Callinan.
The story of St Flannans is rich in history and achievement. St. Flannans College caters for boys and girls. Today it has a pupil population of 1150 and 79 teachers.
The Colaiste Muire is an all girls secondary School. Since its foundation, the Colaiste Muire has had an excellent reputation throughout Co. Clare and Ireland, providing first class educational opportunities for its students. The Colaiste Muire currently has 550 pupils and a teaching staff of 43.
The proposed cutbacks in Education will have very serious implications for both St. Flannans and the Colaiste Muire. All 17 Secondary Schools in Co. Clare are been hit in the very same way.
The increase in pupil teacher ratio for 18 to 1 to 19 to 1 will result in a loss of on average 2 secondary school teachers in every school in Clare.
The loss of teachers will cause a ripple effect throughout every school starting with the curtailment of subject choice, reduction in and even loss of transition year programmes, massive pressure on leaving cert applied and loss of the home school programme.
From the 7th of January next the proposed changes in substitution cover will result in students not being able to participate in field trips as part of their school curriculum’s in subjects like geography and biology. It will also curtail sporting activities. Schools are also set to loose out on the free book scheme.
In St Flannans College for Example if the cut backs are implemented they will loose 4 to 5 teachers. In the Colaiste Muire they will loose 2 teachers. This presents the principles and staff with a major problem in terms of planning timetables. This coupled with the cuts intended in substitution cover presents a nightmare situation because it’s being implemented in the middle of a school term.
At a recent meeting held between all secondary school principles in Clare and the four Oireachtas members we were told that if the matter of subistitution is not addressed it will lead to massive disruption, an increase in indiscipline. There’s no doubt students will suffer and teachers will suffer added stress and all for what Minister. This is simply a grab for money without any purpose.
One of the lowest moves by the Minister in the budget was the abolishment of the free book scheme. This is a direct attack on the poor. In St. Flannans College this year alone the bill was €18,500. In the Colaiste Muire 90 students availed of the scheme. Next year if the Government have their way this grant won’t be there. Parents will be placed in an impossible financial position. Books for first year students now cost €329.15 and books for leaving cert cost €362.15. At a time when 10,000 people are joining the dole queues in Ireland every month what sense does it make Minister to remove this grant.
I also want to highlight the crisis that will emerge with regard to substitution. In particular the fact that substitute teacher cover will no longer be provided for teachers away from the classroom on school business. This is set to kick in early next year. Subjects like geography, biology and CSPE have field trips as part of the Curriculum. Without proper substitution cover these vital activities will be a thing of the past.
A lot of children find it hard to engage in the school system. Sporting and cultural activities present an opportunity for these students to excel. The Colaiste Muire have a 90 strong award winning choir together with a wide range of sports such as badminton, basketball and camogie. St Flannans is well known for its success particularly on the Hurling field but also provides a full spectrum of other sports for boys and girls. All of these activities are being placed in jeopardy by the Ministers as substitution cover that was provided heretofore will no longer be provided. Minister I ask what purposed does this cut serve. How will it assist the development of a child, how will this help society and how will it address the problems with obesity.
I appeal to you Minister this evening to sit down and radically rethink the cut backs in education. Investment in Education pre school, primary, secondary, and third level is critically important for this countries future wellbeing. Listen to the parents and pupils who march every week on the streets of this country in opposition to the cuts, Listen to the teachers who have the practical knowledge of the effect the cuts will have. I appeal to you Minister to reverse the disastrous education cuts contained Budget 09.