‘Decline in donations makes job impossible’

A dramatic fall in voluntary contributions is making the job of managing primary schools almost impossible, teachers claimed yesterday.

There was strong criticism at the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation congress of inadequate funding for schools — especially proposed cuts in the capitation grant, the amount of which is based on pupil numbers — and minor works grant.

Cork City South delegate Norma Ryan said the effects of the cuts would be felt in every school, by every teacher, as well as by their management boards.

Schools, Ms Ryan said, have to engage in a variety of fundraising activities, including cake sales, car boot sales, bingo nights, and sponsored walks, to supplement essential services such as the wages of cleaning staff so that adequate standards of school hygiene could be maintained.

Ms Ryan and other delegates also demanded the retention of the annual minor works grant in schools, saying the abolition of the grant would put many schools under great financial pressure.

Drogheda delegate Gerry Conroy said the abolition of the minor works grant would prove to be a short-sighted move.

“In time, it would prove very costly as many repairs which would have been done will be left on the long finger. But they will have to addressed in time, when they will be much bigger and more costly jobs,” he warned.

Kathryn Crowley, the principal of a DEIS school in Ballyfermot, Dublin, said she considered herself to be working in a semi-private school.

“Because when hard-pressed parents and local community have to fund-raise to open the door of the school, and not just for extras, then that is no longer free public education,” Ms Crowley told delegates.

“We are now fundraising to turn on the lights, to heat the building, to pay for the water to flush the toilets. Indeed, we are fundraising to buy the toilet paper.”

Calling for more creative ways of funding schools, Ms Crowley suggested schools be exempt from water charges, that they should be able to claim back VAT, and be able to avail of central bulk purchasing of services, even toilet paper.

The congress passed a composite motion deploring the funds shortage and calling for the retention of capitation and minor works grants.

Also yesterday, delegates considered a report outlining the case for greater co-operation between four teachers’ unions.

The report argues that the unions have common goals in areas such as education policy, shared service delivery, shared commissioning of services, media co-operation, joint information provision, political lobbying, pooling of expertise, and membership benefits.

The report, authored by former ASTI official John O’Dowd, states that if the unions are really serious about wanting to co-operate more closely then it is reasonable to expect them to sacrifice some degree of sovereignty.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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