19 July 2021
By Mary Bermingham
“Cork primary and special schools deserve better”
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) is the trade union for teachers and principals in primary and special schools across the island of Ireland. Following a challenging year for primary schools, their pupils and staff, INTO has published a pre-budget submission which sets out the investment needed to support recovery and improve educational outcomes.
In a series of meetings with all political parties recently, the union set out the deficiencies in our primary system that need to be tackled in the forthcoming budget.
We must reduce our class sizes
Irish primary class sizes remain the largest in the European Union. Too many pupils in Cork still learn in a classroom of 30 or more pupils, with one in five pupils nationally learning in such crowded environments. At the height of the pandemic, Ireland was the only EU country that had to plan for social distancing in supersized classes of thirty or more. Research shows that smaller classes enable teachers to give adequate and necessary time to each child in the classroom, which has a positive impact on learning outcomes.
Smaller classes support inclusion and diversity, whilst teachers cater to the range of individual learning styles in the room. The INTO calls on the government in Budget 2022 to reduce class size and make a commitment to better learning outcomes for Irish primary school children.
Heroic school leaders need support
At the heart of a strong school community is a well-supported school leader. Principals must be supported in their efforts to lead teaching and learning in our schools whilst they simultaneously carry out the range of administrative tasks assigned to the role. No school in the country would have been able to open during the pandemic without the incredibly hard work of school leaders.
Middle management posts allow schools to coordinate curriculum and school development and to facilitate a range of initiatives that provide a holistic education, including leading wellbeing initiatives in school, supporting special education and inclusion, co-ordinating digital learning and delivering environmental and physical education programmes. As a result of the recession, the number of middle management posts remains at 73% of what it was in 2009. Budget 2022 must begin the process of delivering the restoration of these assistant principal posts.
Teaching principals essentially do two jobs. They teach their class and also have to manage their entire school. It’s a very difficult juggling act. During the pandemic, the government finally listened to calls from this union and provided for one day a week release from teaching duties to enable these principals to lead and manage their schools. INTO is calling for this weekly release day to be maintained in the coming years. This will be essential for teaching principals to manage an orderly, secure, and healthy school environment whilst catering to the educational needs within their own classrooms.
Every pupil deserves to be taught by a qualified teacher
Every child in a Cork primary and special school classroom should be taught by a qualified teacher every day. Nationwide substitute supply panels are essential to achieving this. A supply panel involves a base primary school hiring a full-time substitute teacher, who covers absences in their school and neighbouring schools, thereby guaranteeing every absence is covered. During the pandemic, the government introduced supply panels covering about two thirds of all primary schools in the country. Feedback from schools and parents has been overwhelmingly positive. Budget 2022 must guarantee the panels remain in future years and roll them out to all schools.
Schools should not have to fundraise for basic expenses
It’s 2021, and primary schools in Cork still have to fundraise to cover basic expenses like lighting, heating and insurance. It is simply not good enough that the parents of Ireland have to contribute nearly €50 million every year to keep primary schools afloat. As the government has said repeatedly during the crisis, primary education is a national priority. It should therefore be fully, not partially, funded.
Cork primary schools receive significantly less funding than second and third level institutions. Primary schools receive a capitation grant of €1 per pupil per school day to cover their running costs. The standard capitation grant per primary school pupil has dropped from €200 in 2010 to €183 at present, in contrast to the current figure of €316 at post- primary level. This funding disparity is grossly unfair. The INTO requests that the government invests in our primary and special schools by restoring funding to pre-recession levels in Budget 2022.
INTO President Joe McKeown said:
“As we move out of the pandemic, we need to invest in our primary schools as they play their role in the great national effort supporting their pupils, some of whom have sadly fallen behind. While it will be easy for Government to roll out short term sound bites, sustained support for the sector is the only proven method for ensuring pupils and schools are supported in the years to come. We have set out practical, pragmatic and costed proposals that will ensure class sizes in our primary schools align with our EU neighbours, bring an end to the requirement for school fundraising to cover basic needs and support our school leaders who stepped up admirably during the crisis.”