Jobs embargo threatens cutting-edge libraries
TWENTY two state-of-the-art school libraries are in danger of closing because of the public-sector jobs embargo.
The libraries are designed to boost literacy standards among the country's most disadvantaged students, and research has shown that they are achieving this aim.
Around €9m has been spent to date on the high-quality libraries, which are stocked with an extensive range of reading materials and computers to enhance numeracy, reading and writing skills.
The 'spec' in these Demonstration Libraries, as they are called, is generally much higher than traditional school libraries with more comfortable seats and better furnishings to encourage students to use the facilities.
The libraries are situated in about 30 schools that offer the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), which is aimed at young people who may leave school without formal qualifications. As well as getting them to read more, the librarians encourage students to review books, create their own books, attend storytelling sessions and take reading tests online.
But 22 of the staff involved are on one-year contracts that are subject to the moratorium on filling vacancies.
So far, the Department of Finance is resisting requests by the Department of Education and Skills to exempt them from the embargo, but discussions are continuing in the context of staffing levels generally for the education sector for the coming academic year.
Ironically, both the Ministers for Education and Finance recently officially opened libraries in two of these schools and were full of praise for them.
Last month, Education Minister Mary Coughlan described the library at St Aidan's Community School, Tallaght, as an outstanding resource that would provide a critical tool in addressing students' literacy needs. Her colleague Brian Lenihan opened a second one in Riversdale Community College, Blanchardstown, which he also praised.
Clive Byrne, Director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, said last night that the libraries were introduced to help the most vulnerable students in schools and could not function properly without being staffed.
The JCSP operates as an intervention for students who have experienced difficulties in school and are considered to be at risk of leaving early.
It attempts to help young people experience success and develop a positive self-image by providing a curriculum and assessment framework suitable to their needs. On completion of the programme, students receive a profile, which is an official record of their achievements from the department.
The two departments are also discussing the current ban on filling middle-management positions in schools, particularly second-level schools, where it is having a severe impact.
The education minister has promised some alleviation for schools acutely affected by the impact of the moratorium.
"Schools will be advised of the outcome of the discussions at the earliest possible stage so that they can plan," she said in a Dail reply yesterday.