Friday, January 13, 2012

Failing to cherish the Young

Children and Parents protesting outside the Dáil at DEIS cutbacks

Wednesday was the first day of the new Dáil term for 2012. As they returned from their Christmas break TDs and Seanadoirí were met by a large and vocal demonstration of parents, children and staff from DEIS schools across the state.

'Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools' (DEIS) is an initiative which provides essential support for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with Special Educational Needs so that they are able to leave school with the skills necessary to fully participate in the social and economic activities of society and to live independent and fulfilled lives.

There are over 300 such schools and according to the Department of Education they should “receive a greater level of support in terms of pupil-teacher ratios, special grants and extra support for pupils”.

However, in its December budget the government introduced a number of measures which are about saving money by cutting resources to these schools. These measures include increasing class sizes; cutting a number of administrative principals; ending the support teacher scheme, and transferring up to 250 teachers in DEIS schools to mainstream schools.

It is estimated that up to 428 DEIS teaching posts from 270 primary and 163 post primary schools will be lost.

On Wednesday evening the first private member motion of the new term was a Sinn Féin motion calling on the government to rescind its decisions and to ring fence funding and support for DEIS schools.

Meeting protestors just before Sinn Féin Private Members Motion debated

A few hours before the debate was due to commence the Labour Minister Ruairi Quinn moved to try and ease Labour backbench unhappiness with the cuts by saying that he would hold a review into each school individually and complete that within 4 weeks. Some Labour TDs took this as an indication that the cuts will be reversed.

However, the Minister who had the opportunity to confirm this refused to do so.

Alarm bells immediately went off, not just among Sinn Féin and other opposition TDs but also campaigners seeking a reversal of the budget decision.

For many this smacked of the ‘old politics’ of divide and conquer. It’s the cynical tactic of holding out the prospect of the Minister possibly making a few concessions and trying to strip away the urgency and dynamic and solidarity of the campaign for a reversal of the cuts.

Cynicism increased when the Minister went on to RTE on Friday morning and admitted that he had ‘made a mistake’ but warned of different cuts in education if he had to reverse any cuts to DEIS schools.

"I'm out of practice” he said. Out of Practice? What sort of explanation is that to give?

What is needed is not a review or shallow excuses but a reversal of the decision. That is why the Irish National Teachers Organisation is right to go ahead with its planned protest next Thursday.

There is abundant evidence supporting the positive and productive work of these schools. The publication on Friday of a report on the first phase of the DEIS programme in primary schools confirms this. The report published by the Education Research Centre covers the years 2007 to 2010 and reveals significantly higher scores in reading and mathematics.

The Minister has added significantly to the confusion and uncertainty and fear that exists among parents, pupils and teaching staff. His decisions and actions have been unacceptable. He should move now to immediately reverse the threatened cuts to DEIS schools.

However he failed to do so and one after another Labour party backbenchers walked through the lobby and vote to pursue the current government agenda.

It is a far cry from the Proclamation and cherishing all of the children of the nation equally.

What would James Connolly, whose bust looks down on the Dáil chamber, have done if faced with this decision? I am confident he would not have voted to cut essential resources from schools in disadvantaged areas.

And what will citizens, particularly those who support Labour, think when they watch a Labour Minister force teachers onto the dole queues and penalise disadvantaged children?

The Labour Party claimed that Labour in government was needed to take the sharp edge off Fine Gael’s conservatism. It isn’t working. Labour has bought into Fine Gael’s austerity and conservative ethos. Sinn Féin is actively encouraging teachers and parents and others aggrieved at Labour behaviour to lobby backbenchers, especially Labour backbenchers. They are now being forced to take the sharp edge of their leadership’s conservatism.

The fact is that the Labour Minister for Education took the decision to cut resources to DEIS schools without any thought to the social consequences, hopes and opportunities in the lives of these young people?

While his decision may save a minimal amount of money future outcomes will mean that society will lose out ten times over.

Leaving aside the politics, the ideological position and the morality of it all, it is bad economics because in time the State will need to pay more to pick up on the social legacy left by these cuts.

Another matter of real concern are the cuts to guidance councillors. As well as the career guidance such councillors give they are the first port of call for many children with difficulties in their lives. That has also been dismantled, which is very short-sighted.

Equality, equality, equality: where is the equality in any of this?

The government’s cuts will copperfasten inequality. We will see emerging in this State two different types of Ireland, namely, the people of the bottom of the ladder, who have not emigrated or are now on the dole, will be cemented into their inequality while those at the top of the tier will have their positions reinforced.

This should not be reduced to a matter of money particularly by a Government which will by March have given €4.3 billion of taxpayers' money to criminal banks and unguaranteed bondholders.

This blog knows, as a representative of County Louth and from all of my experience in west Belfast, the huge effect which small amounts of money can have on disadvantaged areas in terms of uplifting possibilities and opportunities, in particular of young people.

Let us not consign another generation of people to a life on the dole or to emigration.

Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. Even those who have only Gaeilge bhriste know the sense and wisdom of that proverb. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. Nourish the young and they will come right. Do the opposite and we create problems for ourselves.

Talking to the media and to protestors at Leinster House

1 comment:

Timothy Dougherty said...

Hello Gerry,
I feel real pain over this loss of essential services. "the State will need to pay more to pick up on the social legacy left by these cuts." That is a key and essential way of seeing this in pure economic terms, the cost will be more, within the long run. The pain is always on the backs of people who can not bare that extra burden. The is the recognition of spectacular losses, in econmic use of funds, in human cost. Only with investments comes independence for the disadvataged and a productive life. Everything seems so wrong in terms of significant contribution, of needs and services. Very good to know that your on the spot and doing the best job you can.
-well done Gerry,