Schools kept in the dark over essential repair funds

Schools are still waiting to find out if they will get Department of Education funding for repairs this year or if they will have to ask hard-pressed parents to pay the maintenance bills instead.

A year ago last week, former education minister Ruairi Quinn announced a one-off reinstatement of the minor works grant, paying €28m to the country’s 3,300 primary schools weeks before Christmas. The payment was described by Fianna Fáil as an election gimmick, as the once-annual grant was not paid in 2012 and was only announced last year soon before the local and European elections — giving an average-sized school of 120 pupils around €7,700.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation says repairs which cannot be done would have to be left on the long-finger so postponing grants would prove more costly in the long run.

“Given that the Department of Education coffers have more money than this time last year, there is no excuse for failing to deliver on the minor works grant,” said INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan.

The department has a 2014 capital budget of €544m, of which €409m was spent up to the end of October. Although this is €8m more than it had expected to have spent by that point in the year, the €135m still left for capital works compares to just €99m available to the department under that heading the same time last year.

“Funding cuts and the abolition of other grants come at a time when more and more parents face financial difficulties and cannot respond to requests by schools for assistance with further increases in running costs,” Ms Nunan said.

The department told schools when last year’s grant was made that it would only be paid in future years as funding permits, and told the Irish Examiner this week there is no funding available “at this time”.

However, a spokesman for Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan said the payment of a grant for this year has not been precluded.

“The most recent capital out-turns for 2014 will be examined in coming weeks and any flexibility will be put to a minor works grant,” he said.

The department has also yet to decide if a summer works scheme — under which schools apply for funds with which to carry out essential works — would be run next year. Although the scheme has been cancelled in recent years while capital funding is focused on new schools and extensions, €70m was found this year and the second round of awards notified to schools weeks before May’s local elections.

Meanwhile, employers’ views are being sought to help shape the future of further and higher education. A small-scale survey two years ago found that Irish businesses were less happy about graduates’ written communications, business awareness, and entrepreneurship skills.

The Higher Education Authority, further education and training authority SOLAS, and Quality & Qualifications Ireland are seeking wider opinions in an online National Employer Survey on Graduates in Ireland, which closes on Friday.

”From time to time, businesspeople express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with aspects of our education and training systems but we need to understand those views in greater detail,” said HEA chief executive Tom Boland.


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