Students losing out due to cutbacks, says school body

Students are losing out, personally and educationally, because frontline services in schools have not been protected, as claimed by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, it has been claimed.

At their annual conference in Killarney, hundreds of principals and secondary board of management chairpersons are discussing the increasing workload imposed by staffing cuts, management structure changes and a raft of education initiatives.

But the head of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which represents the boards of 380 voluntary secondary schools, said that it is misleading for the minister to insist frontline services have been protected in recent budgets.

While mainstream pupil-teacher ratios have not risen, JMB general secretary Ferdia Kelly said they have effectively risen because of last year’s inclusion of guidance counselling into every school’s teacher allocation.

In addition, he said, children with special education needs have to make do with 15% less resource teaching than when Mr Quinn took office two years ago, and resources have been withdrawn from Traveller children and those whose first language is not English.

“A child on the autistic spectrum is now getting 45 minutes less resource teaching a week, or 25 hours less in a school year than experts recommend.

“The 1998 Education Act says a school must provide appropriate education for all children, but it’s very hard for a school to say it is doing so when resources are reduced for special needs by 15% and we do not know yet if there will be another cut next year,.”

Details will be published at the JMB conference today of the views of 36 principals who took part in focus group discussions about the causes and effects of increased workload.

The range and pace of educational reforms are among the key concerns, including the literacy and numeracy strategy being advanced by Mr Quinn, who will hear directly from school leaders in a question and answer session this afternoon.

Principals also reported increased duties associated with initiatives, such as:

*The revised Junior Certificate curriculum.

*Organising substitutes to cover teacher absences during training for the Project Maths syllabus.

*Added responsibilities and accountability under new schools self-evaluation system and anti-bullying guidelines.

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