We have an obligation to do more - Tackling social disadvantage

Despite all of the advances we have made, or imagine we have made, in trying to understand each other, two of this week’s events are chilling reminders of how fate is such a dominant, almost insurmountable, force in young lives and how some individual and social behaviour is utterly incomprehensible.

Will Cornick was 15 when he stabbed soon-to-retire teacher Ann Maguire to death in a Leeds classroom. He had, apparently, been planning her murder for three years but gave no indication of the demons that lurked within. He may never be released from prison. Even if you accept that his crime was barbarous and unforgivable, and that he has shown no remorse, this seems an unbearably cruel reality to impose on a now 16-year-old boy. A considerable burden of that sentence, especially emotional trauma, will fall on his parents, described as perfectly ordinary and decent people.

Cornick’s evil delusions decreed his fate, but nothing more than random circumstances defines the life path of the children in the Moyross Corpus Christi primary school, a school that has, because of insufficient pupil numbers, lost a teacher. Like so many schools all around the country, Corpus Christi has had to merge two junior infants’ classes pitting 32 children against each other — not to mention the besieged teacher — in one classroom. These numbers would be challenging in even an ideal, Tiger Mother environment, but because these children come from one of the most disadvantaged communities in the country, it makes an already difficult situation even more challenging.

That the 32-pupil class is 50% above the official pupil- teacher ratio for disadvantaged schools adds to the sense that a community where commitment to education and academic ambition may not be defining priorities is being left to a fate easily imagined: One of failure, of unrealised potential and an unbroken cycle of unemployment, poverty and alienation punctuated by crime, despair and broken, dysfunctional families. A predictable litany that will have considerable consequences for the exchequer.

The children of Moyross are not the only young citizens left to this fate, a fact recognised by the 2005 establishment of Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools programme. At the moment, 849 schools are under the programme’s umbrella and though this represents considerable and commendable commitment to tackling lifelong, avoidable disadvantage it is, as the Corpus Christi story shows, insufficient. That the Limerick Regeneration Project seems to have run into the sand before any great milestones were reached just adds to a sense of almost wilful neglect; we look away when we should demand more of ourselves and our Government.

Every cause imagines its claim on the national coffers legitimate or even exceptional. As we know the consequences of not properly supporting life-giving educational services in disadvantaged communities it would be a betrayal of our fellow citizens, and condemn many children to a future hardly more attractive than the one faced by Will Cornick, if we cannot find resources to do more in places like Moyross.


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