There were demonstrations across France yesterday, Thursday, in memory of young anti-fascist Clém
A tale of two education systems
Nothing highlights the deepening class divisions in Ireland more than the education system, particularly at secondary school level.While the rest of public education buckles under the weight of staff and capitation grant cuts, Special Needs Assistant reductions and growing teacher/pupil ratios, the elitist private schools system has never had it better, thanks to the Fine Gael and Labour government.
Figures released by the Department of Education showed that private fee-paying schools were given a total of 95 million euro in state subsidies for the latest academic year (2011-12), despite the fact that these schools generated annual incomes from fees totalling 100 million.
The majority of these subsidies to help prepare the sons and daughters of the rich for future greatness are concentrated in South Dublin, with the suburb of Blackrock receiving subsidies for four private schools amounting to 7.8 million alone.
The state also paid out 86.6 million in teachers’ salaries in 56 private, fee-paying schools across the country.
Clerical staff was paid a further 261,000 with 1.85 million for SNAs, while 28,183 worth of assistive technology grants were issued to the same private institutions.
Although rank and file delegates at the Labour Party Conference in April called for such handouts for the rich to be ‘phased out’, Party supremo Eamon Gilmore ignored their pleas and defended the ‘grants’.
Gilmore claimed halting such subsidies would ‘not result in savings’ because ‘most of the private schools would just convert into public schools’.
“What we want to achieve is a system of education that is fair to every pupil, that gives every child the best opportunity, and that does not distinguish,” he said.
However, you don’t have to look far to see past Gilmore’s ridiculous claims of educational equality.
Among the four private schools in Cork receiving subsidies totalling 9.5 million is Cistercians College in Roscrea, given 900,000 in taxpayer money.
Included among its former ‘notable pastmen’ are the likes of Brian Cowen, Dick Spring and David Andrews.
This exclusive fee-paying school’s 220 pupils are ‘mainly catholic’, but ‘may admit’ boys from other faith traditions where families are ‘supportive of the [R.C] religious ethos’, according to the college website.
Sons of staff members and those with family connections to the college are ‘always welcomed’ by the Board of Governors, it says.
These state-subsidised privileged few can then enjoy the spacious 30-acre leafy surroundings with extensive playing fields.
There’s an all-weather pitch, gymnasium, tennis and basketball courts, an indoor sports complex, equestrian horse riding, nine-hole golf course and a heated indoor swimming pool!
A world away from all this luxury that workers unknowingly pay for, staff, parents and pupils have been fighting (and continue to fight) a remarkable battle against measures by Fine Gael and Labour to slash teacher numbers and cut capitation grants to the most disadvantaged schools in the country. The withdrawal of vital supports to children with special needs is also being resisted on the streets outside Dail Eireann.
Government attempts to cut 428 teaching posts from DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools), punishing vulnerable and disadvantaged children was met with fierce resistance earlier this year.
In an astonishing show of real people power, 6000 protested outside the Department of Education to demand a reversal of the vicious budget measure, ultimately forcing an embarrassing U-turn from the Labour Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn.
The former Blackrock College graduate admitted, “we make mistakes, we get things wrong.
Let’s look at that again.”
However, while his department was funnelling lavish grants to the private education sector, Quinn issued his threat: “I don’t have extra resources. I have to take resources from somewhere else within my budget.”
Although 235 DEIS teaching posts were saved, Quinn reduced capitation grants to primary schools by 3.5% (up from the originally planned cut of 2%) instead.
This callous move effectively means that hundreds of schools will now face difficulties paying for basic utilities such as heating and lighting when the academic year resumes in September.
And its low-income families struggling to survive who will then be pressed to make increasing ‘voluntary contributions’ to help cover these schools’ running costs.
Furthermore, in a particularly vindictive attempt to impress the EU/IMF, the government intends to make pupils with special needs face further cutbacks in time spent with their resource teachers in the next school year.
On top of the 10% cut last year, resource teaching time for children with learning difficulties is to be reduced by 15 minutes per week (or 5%).
These cuts will result in the loss of even greater numbers of Special Needs Assistants in primary schools across the country.
Minister Quinn was well pleased however, declaring himself “quite satisfied that this is a very small reduction.”
This is all happening at a time when many working class parents are finding it harder to afford to send their kids to freezing cold, dilapidated school prefabs; and a public system facing almost constant cutbacks from a government eager to fund and protect their two-tier education system.
The recently released Bernardos School Survey showed that around 1,700 families are applying every day for help with the cost of sending their children back to school.
The survey found that 80% of the almost 1000 parents questioned were struggling to meet the costs involved, with 10% unable to pay bills and forced into debt as a result.
One parent told Bernardos, “we cut back on food and let other bills go unpaid to ensure the children have what they need for school. The bus costs 350 euro for the year. We’re living on the edge all the time. So much for free education.”
Savage cuts to the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance in last year’s budget has caused even greater hardship. The rates were reduced in Budget 2012 from 305 euro to 250 for children over 12, and from 200 to 150 for 11 year olds and under.
The survey also reported that the average cost of sending a 10 year old to primary school was 390 euro and for a 12 year old entering their 1st year of secondary school the cost was now in the region of 770!
Some schools are demanding between 100 and 500 euro from parents in ‘voluntary contributions’ while the extensive use of laptops and Ipad tablets are becoming prevalent in classrooms, adding to the enormous expense.
Disgracefully, parents already hammered by multiple austerity cuts and job losses in order to save the banks or paying taxes to help educate the children of the wealthy, are being scammed as well.
Secondary school uniforms costing more than 170 euro with specific college crests can only be purchased from an elite and expensive selection of retailers, while the constant reprinting of textbooks leaves parents unable to pass school books on to siblings.
To all this, the Minister for Education’s indifferent reponse was that his ‘hands are tied’.
The myth of ‘free education for all’ under capitalism has been well and truly unmasked. The class-driven nature of Irish education, with its emphasis on subsidies for children of the rich and brutal cutbacks for poor and vulnerable children in public schools must be ended immediately.
All state subsidies to private institution must be halted; education cuts such as staff and teacher salary cuts reversed with capitation grants to public schools restored.
All special needs classes must be reinstated.
A universal and truly free child-centred education system, democratically run by parents, children and school personnel must be provided on the basis of the child’s need, and not on ‘value for money’ or the profit motive.
Now that’s an education system worth fighting for!
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