“Elaborate form-filling” and “intrusive questioning” of families requiring educational supports has become a headache for primary school teachers since transfer of several responsibilities to Tusla, the child and family agency, the INTO congress has heard.
A decision five years ago to assign the home school community liaison scheme and the school completion programme to Tusla has increased the workload for certain primary school staff, the INTO annual congress in Galway was told.
The two schemes were described as “two key pillars” of designated DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) schools in disadvantaged communities, allowing staff to ensure the educational needs of pupils and families are met, congress heard.
Speaking to a motion condemning the “utter lack of progress” made by the group established in 2015 to review the DEIS scheme, INTO delegate Gregor Kerr said that removing principals from decision-making on supports is “anti-education” and “anti-inclusion”.
The motion, which demanded that the roll out of schools for DEIS be “transparent” and directly in line with current data on disadvantage, also called for transfer of the school completion programme back to the remit of DEIS principals.
Proposing the motion, principal Peter McCabe said that breakfast clubs and homework clubs in DEIS schools have helped “make life more tolerable for some of our pupils”.
However, Mr McCabe criticised the lack of support from the Department of Education and Skills, saying that “much of the heavy lifting is done by staff in DEIS”.
School principal Louise Tobin, whose Tipperary school is not in the DEIS scheme, said the 2017 review of designations had overlooked many schools which required it, and spoke of pupils who arrived into class hungry after long walks as parents had no transport.
We cannot seek voluntary contributions or fundraise in a disadvantaged community... we can’t bridge these gaps in a non-DEIS school.
The INTO congress heard criticism of class sizes, which remained “unchanged” in disadvantaged schools despite minor reductions in schools outside of DEIS.
The “most vulnerable” pupils who would benefit from smaller class sizes are “once again on the losing side of government investment”, delegates heard.
A resolution was passed mandating the INTO's central executive committee to initiate a public campaign highlighting the impact of social inequality in schools.
Falling enrolments at primary level also present Minister for Education Joe McHugh with a “unique opportunity” to reduce class size to the EU average with “minimal or no cost” to the State, delegates heard during debate on a motion calling for a reduction in class sizes.
“It’s simple, Minister – hold on to our primary teachers as the number of pupils drops,” INTO general secretary John Boyle said, outlining how it could be achieved in five years, allowing Ireland’s class sizes to fall below EU and OECD average.
“Headaches over rising light, heat and electricity costs distract our leaders from their primary function, to lead teaching and learning,” teacher Michael McConigley said, speaking to a motion calling for an increase in funding for primary schools.
Outlining the use of technology in schools, teacher Andrew Bowen said adequate funding was required for purchase and ongoing maintenance.
Delegates heard how primary schools are allocated 92 cent per pupil per day to cover their running costs, while second-level schools receive almost double that amount.
For every €8 spent on primary schools, €11 is spent at second level and €15 at third level, delegates heard. The Standard Capitation Grant per pupil has dropped from €200 in 2010 to €170, while the post-primary figure is €296.