Tuesday 6 December 2016

Bruton warned that funding cuts putting schools at risk of closure

Published 19/05/2016 | 02:30

Minister for Education Richard Bruton Photo: Damien Eagers
Minister for Education Richard Bruton Photo: Damien Eagers

The Department of Education has admitted that cuts in Government funding have pushed some schools towards the point of closure.

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Officials have told Education Minister Richard Bruton that the adequacy of funding to meet the day-to-day running costs is "a critical issue", despite reductions in energy costs.

The reference, in the briefing document prepared for Mr Bruton, is to the capitation grant, paid by the department to schools every year based on the number of pupils enrolled.

Between 2011 and 2015, there was an aggregate 11pc drop in the capitation and related grants to schools and officials say it would take €40m a year to restore it to pre-2011 levels.

They warn that the current reduced funding levels for all schools "create a risk that some may not be able to cover critical costs" such as heating or insurance, "the absence of which could trigger school closure".

Schools have to rely on voluntary donations from parents and fund-raisers, such as cake sales, to help meet costs.

Principals often have to prioritise utility bills over teaching resources, the document said.

Officials also refer to the general reductions in teacher numbers at second-level, and say that it would take 1,300 teachers, over and above what is necessary to cater for the increase in enrolments, to bring schools back to where they were before the financial crash in 2008.

The document states that teacher cuts at second-level are of particular significance given the need to broaden choices to make better provision for subjects such as science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

It also concedes that the ongoing ban on promotions in second-level schools in its current form is "unsustainable", as applied unevenly because it depends on the level of loss of posts in a school through natural wastage, such as retirement.

It says the key challenge is to introduce a new and transformed middle-management structure but says it will require substantial changes of practice by teachers, and overcoming opposition by their unions.

The high degree of sensitivity around the issue of underfunding at third-level is evident in the way that the section on this issue in the briefing document has been completely blacked out.

The document does refer to the €350m provided for in the Capital Plan 2016-2021 for infrastructure improvements at third-level, but says it is unlikely to meet all the critical needs.

Irish Independent

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