Monday 22 January 2018

Bruton reminded that 'fine words don't butter potatoes'

Protesting teachers at the INTO Congress in Belfast. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Protesting teachers at the INTO Congress in Belfast. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Cake sales, lotto draws, golf classics, bring-and-buy sales, zany dress-up days, Christmas cards and Christmas fairs.

It sounds like a rather cheerful list but forced jollities are no fun at all when it means parents having to reach wearily into their pockets once again to 'sub' the Government and its shortfalls so a school can afford to switch the lights on.

Richard Bruton was clearly ebullient to be the first Fine Gael Education Minister to address the INTO congress in 30 years.

But while he and his five-point action plan received a relatively warm welcome from teachers, they were not slow to tell him the situation on the ground.

"Fine words don't butter potatoes," President Rosena Jordan tartly reminded him, with a view towards better teachers' pay.

His threats, too, of a carrot-and-stick approach to schools, warning them of cutting capitation grants unless they eased the burden of costs for parents, were given the sharp 'muinteoir' treatment - they told him the Government is not in a position to threaten to cut funding for schools until it starts properly funding schools in the first place.

Schools are currently getting just 92c per pupil per day to meet vital day-to-day costs such as lighting, heating, cleaning and insurance.

Mr Bruton told the Congress that he will be issuing a letter to schools in relation to cost, saying that no unnecessary cost barriers should be put in place for parents, that parents should have a say, and that where there are opportunities for saving, that these opportunities are seized.

He later suggested that this might mean schools using iron-on crests for uniforms and generic items where possible.

However, teachers pointed out the costs of uniforms and other items are just 'a drop in the ocean' in comparison to the voluntary fees parents are being forced to pay out to keep schools going. General Secretary of the INTO Sheila Nunan told the minister that the capitation grant "goes nowhere near the cost of running schools".

She told of schools forced to buy a fill of oil on credit because of financial constraints.

"Parents are effectively paying a local education cost, it is unacceptable and they should not have to pay on the double. Education is not a charity and it is time it was properly funded," she said.

Meanwhile, pay restoration was also a strong theme of the cross-border Congress, which was being held at Belfast Waterfront, with Ms Nunan telling the minister: "We've done our time. We have played our part. We have kept the show on the road, it is payback time."

Meanwhile, a motion calling for decent housing for all was unanimously passed, put by Gregor Kerr, a teacher from Dublin north city, who pointed out that every one of the 2,500-plus children homeless or in emergency accommodation, and the 1,500 Traveller children living in overcrowded or unsafe conditions, and the 1,500 children living in Direct Provision, are struggling to achieve their potential and are "effectively being told to live invisible lives".

Irish Independent

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