Parents, pupils and public, we need you: that’s the loud and clear message being sounded by Waterford primary school teachers ahead of this week’s INTO-led protest outside Leinster House.
“Parents are irate about this,” Butlerstown National School teacher Joe Cashin told The Munster Express. “They’re angry and frustrated and, just as teachers do, feel enormously let down.
“In our case in Butlerstown, it’s taken a lot of work to get us to a place where we now have eight teachers on our staff.
“But because of what is being proposed by the Government, as of next year, we’ll be back down to seven. This is going to involve splitting four classes and the implications of that for teacher and pupil alike are enormous.”
While accepting that the harsh economic climate involved decisions which the public would find difficult to stomach, Mr Cashin said the ‘dirty dozen’ cuts imposed on education did not represent part of a long-term road to recovery.
“I don’t understand the thinking behind it,” he continued, echoing INTO General Secretary John Carr, who said the “savage” cuts were symptomatic of a Government with “no understanding of the educational needs of young children”.
Added Mr Cashin: “We have in place a Minister for Education who seems to have no feeling or understanding for what the job demands of him.
“And the measures that have been announced, from my understanding, were introduced by a Government that was so caught up in the banking crisis that it took its eye completely off the ball when it came to education.”
A scheduled meeting of Waterford City’s INTO branch, which was held at the Tower Hotel on October 20th, was unsurprisingly dominated by the Budget’s implications.
At that meeting, it was decided that all local principals should prepare and issue letters to parents and guardians, detailing how the announced cutbacks would affect their children’s’ education.
In one such letter, a county-based principal writes: “An increase in the pupil teacher ratio does not simply mean one more child in each class – it means splitting more classes in our school and reducing the time given to children who need learning support.
“Free book grants have been abolished except in the case of a small number of severely disadvantaged schools. Grants for resource equipment have been cancelled. Furthermore, we will no longer be allowed to employ substitute teachers to cover for short absences.”
The principal adds: “This means if your child’s teacher is absent, the class may have to be split up for the day and the children sent in groups of five to six to another classroom where for the most part, the teacher is already coping with two classes – each with a very extensive curriculum, leaving little or not time for the extra group.”
The letter concludes: “I will be contacting all of our local public representatives to voice my objection to the cuts and to ask the government to reconsider their approach. I am asking you to do the same…
“Public representatives are very conscious of the views of parents. Your action now could make a crucial difference for the future of your children.”
All Waterford schools were urged by the INTO to include the contact details of local Oireacthas members and councillors in their letters.
It remains unclear how many teachers will lose their jobs in Waterford come September 30th 2009, the date by which staffing for each primary school in 2009/10 will be governed by the Department.
This newspaper understands that Waterford INTO has requested the co-operation of all primary schools through a statistical study which may help to determine just how many jobs will be lost should the ‘dirty dozen’ be green-lit.
However, primary schools in Waterford city designated under the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) programme, including Mount Sion will not lose any teachers despite the proposed cutbacks.
“We really need the support of parents at Leinster House,” said another Waterford-based teacher. “If these cuts go ahead, over a decade of hard work and genuine progress in improving education standards for our children will be undone in an instant. We will not take this lying down.”
The ‘dirty dozen’ education cuts
(In Budget 2009) the Government decided to:
1: Increase class sizes in primary schools
2: Abolish substitute cover for teachers
3: Increase school transport charges
4: Axe English language teachers
5: Reduce funding to special needs children
6: Slash Traveller education funding
7: Cut teacher numbers by at least 1,000
8: Eliminate the free book scheme
9: Stop books for school libraries
10: Halt the Education for Persons with Special Needs Act
11: Abandon funding for school computers
12: Cut funding for primary school building by five per cent