Pressure mounts for education cuts U-turn

THE Government faces increasing pressure to reverse education cutbacks which will mean larger class, sizes and children being sent home from schools that will have no substitute teacher cover from January.

The GAA has added its voice to concern about the withdrawal by Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe of substitution cover from second-level schools for teachers on school business, which would include staff travelling to matches with school teams.

It has sought a meeting with the minister, who returns from China at the weekend, to discuss the implications.

“The association is concerned that implementation of the changes will greatly curtail the development of Gaelic games in second-level schools and will negatively impact on the playing of GAA post-primary school competitions,” said a GAA spokesperson.

But far more serious was the danger warned of by managers of almost 400 second-level schools that they could have to close schools if plans to withdraw paid substitution cover for teachers on uncertified sick leave or official school business go ahead.

“This proposal is unacceptable and unworkable, and will make schools unmanageable by creating a serious health and safety risk, which boards of management will not be able to stand over,” said Joint Managerial Body general secretary Ferdia Kelly.

“Should it go ahead, schools will not be in a position to open in January on health and safety grounds. We predict chaos similar to that in 2003 when students were sent home early with an unacceptable disruption to teaching and learning,” he said.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) said irate principals predict a logistical nightmare arising from the substitution restrictions, which would mean many schools being forced to send students home.

Despite these warnings, the minister’s spokesperson insisted there would be no changes to the substitution proposals — estimated to save the Department of Education almost €30 million at primary and second level — or increased class sizes due in September 2009.

“The minister is committed to implementing the measures outlined in the budget last week and he is asking for the co-operation of all education stakeholders in the long-term interest of the country and helping us return to economic growth,” he said.

Asked about whether he would seek to allay public concerns on education cutbacks as they had done in relation to the medical card scheme, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the changes for over-70s were being made by achieving other savings in the same spending area.


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