Our schools among best in world - but parents are paying

Eimear Rabbitte

WE have one of the best education systems in the world, a new study has revealed -- but parents are paying for it.

Cash-strapped parents are being forced to fork out to help keep schools open after a major cut in school grants.

Research by the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA) found that half of our country's primary schools spent more last year than they received as parents pay to help with funding.

Yet the Learning Curve report has ranked Ireland's education 11th out of the top 50 in the world -- ahead of countries such as Germany, Australia, Belgium and the US.

The report was carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit for educational publishers Pearson to help identify what drives good educational outcomes.

However, Ireland's strong reputation for providing a top ranking education makes little sense as CPSMA general secretary Eileen Flynn said that schools were now in a position where they could not even make ends meet.

This comes as Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said the minor works grant for schools won't be paid this year.

One school was even forced to text parents to tell them to put extra layers of clothing on their children for warmth, as they struggle to cope with funding cutbacks.

Anne Mc Cluskey, principal of Our Lady of the Wayside National School in Bluebell, Dublin, described how children sometimes wear coats in the classroom as the school has "no money" to pay for their heating system to be serviced.

She said the problem is being mirrored in schools around the country.

Ms McCluskey described how each morning she has to try and "kick-start" the boiler.

The Irish Primary Principal Network (IPPN) has urged the Department of Education to reinstate the vital minor works grant -- worth €8,000 to a school for maintenance -- which was slashed in the last budget.

More than 93pc of schools received a minor works grant last year to carry out their essential repairs. But now they are losing out because of cuts in State grants as well as a drop in voluntary contributions and fundraising as homes and businesses around the country feel the pinch.

Sean Cottrell of IPPN said: "Back in the 70s and early 80s, we saw some awful pictures on TV of schools with rat holes.

"We will be heading back to that, there has been a lot of good money spent over the past five years on school buildings but we will lose that benefit if we don't maintain them properly," he said.