Sunday 23 April 2017

No, Minister, parents are doing all they can to help out schools

Ruairi Quinn's broadside has sparked a passionate response from one community

There was something gnawing at Education Minister Ruairi Quinn's good humour recently when he was questioned about a Carlow national school which had been blighted with a rat infestation in 2009.

After first asking "what the hell" were the school's management and principal doing, he turned his fire on the parents, demanding: "What the hell is the community doing?"

Warming to his theme, the minister elaborated: "Take that location in Carlow you are talking about. It's probably surrounded by wonderful houses with two or three cars parked outside every door, and yet the parents living in those houses are content to let them go to a school like that.

"What are they doing about it? When did they last raise it?" the minister demanded.

He ended his tirade: "If my kids were going there, and my kid is only going to be five years of age once, I would get other people around and say 'let's do something about this'."

So does the minister have a point? Could it be that Ireland's parents are happy to put their loved ones into the holding care of the Nanny State and simply hope for the best?

The answer from Carlow and all points beyond is a resounding "No, Minister".

Fr Paddy Byrne, the chair of the school's board of management, countered that due to "a serious shortfall of funding" the money-spinning efforts of parents have been crucial.

He stressed: "I have been 100% overwhelmed by the generosity of the community and the parents in particular."

He was joined by Councillor Tommy Kinsella, a member of the parents' association, who added: "Parents have left no stone unturned and were never found wanting. As for having two or three cars outside, some people are finding it difficult to maintain one, so I totally reject what Mr Quinn said."

John Williams is principal of Marley Grange school in Dublin. He insisted: "Our parents do a huge amount to enhance the learning in the classroom. They pay a voluntary subscription to help bridge the funding shortfall from the department. This covers shortfalls in the light and heat bills, and physical improvements that minor work grants don't cover.

"We have had computer grants for the past three years, but computers break down and sometimes we have to buy in technical support, which the parents pay for. Parents recently helped organise visits to the RNLI and the fire brigade. They help with once-off workshops in science, art and music.

"One parent working in the scientific sphere recently came in to teach a science workshop," said John.

"Parents are involved with enrolment policy, anti-bullying policy, substance abuse policy and other aspects of the school's ethos. They play an active role on our Green Schools Committee. They act as stewards on our Walk On Wednesdays programme, supervising the children walking to school," he said.

'This school has a Catholic ethos and the parents are a vital part of our 'Do This In Memory Of Me' team, which stays with the kids from their first steps towards their first Holy Communion in the autumn to the last hours of it in June when they serve the tea and sandwiches.

"Today was our junior infants sports day and the parents were involved in every minute of it. Without their active support it just couldn't have happened."

He conceded: "There is very much a core group of parents you can call upon, but that's not to be critical of others. Households where both parents are working just don't have the time.

"And admittedly too, our school is in a fairly advantaged area. In other areas it might be hard to get parents into the school because old views persist like 'ooh, they've been called into the principal's office'."

The principal explains: "Things have changed in recent years. Teachers are more open to the reality that parents are the main educators of their children and that we need to have open communication.

"Kids need to see those open lines of communication because it's vitally important for kids to see that their parents and teachers are on the same side," said the Dublin principal.

Peter Mullan of the INTO is in full agreement. He said: "When I started teaching, there was a sign at the school gate saying: 'No parents beyond this point.'

"That culture has been turned completely on its head. My own mother and father never set foot inside my school, but now from the first day of junior infants you have parents coming into the classroom."

That radical shift of culture has been entirely for the good according to Peter, who reflected: "I can't think of a school in the country which could survive without the help of parents.

"They cut the grass, they paint buildings and carry out repairs.

"They provide sports equipment and supervise games, they wash sports gear, they organise book fairs, they pair up with pupils for reading lessons, they go on school trips. The list is endless.

"All that interaction is the lifeblood of the school."

Irish Independent

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