PRIMARY schools are saddled with an average debt of €23,000 because of inadequate and unjust Government funding, principals claimed yesterday.
The figure emerged from a survey unveiled yesterday by the Irish Primary Principals’ Network at its annual conference.
IPPN president Larry Fleming called on Education Minister Mary Hanafin to immediately deliver the Government’s commitment to double primary school funding so it matches the amounts given to second-level schools.
The Department of Education gives primary schools €178 for every pupil to cover bills, maintenance and classroom equipment, but €330 per student is paid out at second-level.
“Of almost 1,000 principals who responded, the average debt their schools face is €23,000, but the worst-off schools are those in urban disadvantaged and remote rural areas,” Mr Fleming said.
“Principals are being forced to spend more time worrying about costs, overdrafts and organising fundraising than they do on education,” he said.
Mr Fleming said it would cost just €71 million extra per year to bring primary school funding on par with second-level, which is less than 1% of the department’s annual €9.3 billion budget.
Although Ms Hanafin has insisted the costs of equipping second-level schools are far greater, the IPPN has engaged an Australian consultant to measure the real cost of educating children from junior infants through to Leaving Certificate.
“Our expert found in his own country there is very little difference in the cost of putting a child behind a desk in primary school or at second level. The Government can tell us how much a bed in a hospital in Galway costs, but nobody can spell out the actual cost of educating a child,” Mr Fleming said.
The IPPN is also calling for a revised funding scheme, which could be based on the pupils in each school with a database showing statistics such as family income, parental education levels, and welfare payments. A similar system in New Zealand gives different levels of per-pupil funding based on a school’s pupil profile, which can be called up by administrators at the touch of a button.
Mr Fleming said much of the technology on display by exhibitors at the IPPN conference in Killarney, such as interactive whiteboards, was an unattainable luxury for the 800 principals and deputy principals in attendance.
“The only reason our primary schools are not bankrupt is because they have to restrict their spending on classroom and curriculum resources. Their costs are increasing, particularly energy, insurance and buildings, as well as the water charges they now have to pay,” he said.
The capitation grant to primary schools, which was increased by e15 per pupil in December’s budget, is paid twice a year but the first instalment is only being received around this time of year, five months after schools open.
“Most of a school’s budget is spent between August and October, but most of them have to borrow the money because they haven’t got the funding. I can’t think of any other area of public service where the Government effectively gets a loan like this,” Mr Fleming said.