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Dublin

Primary principals criticise 'infuriating' shortage of supports for pupils affected by trauma

The principals have outlined how children’s ability to learn in school is impacted because they ‘can’t address’ their trauma.

PRINCIPALS REPRESENTING MORE than 3,500 children at disadvantaged primary schools in Dublin have spoken out about how their pupils’ time in the classroom has been affected by issues ranging from addiction to crime and homelessness.

Following a crisis meeting among school principals this week, the group issued a statement seeking a decision from the Department of Education to boost supports to help address “childhood poverty and intergenerational trauma” and the effects they have on the education of children and young people in their care.

The principals, who all represent Deis schools catering to disadvantaged communities in the capital, criticised that the area was “ignored” in the recent Budget.

The Department has deferred a decision on whether to expand the service until after it receives an OECD report this summer.

The OECD is an independent organisation that works with governments in various countries on providing expert opinion on policy. The department commissioned the review to receive advice on an equitable distribution of resources for students at risk of educational disadvantage.

‘Infuriating’

Principal of Tallaght CNS in Jobstown, Conor McCarthy, said it has been “infuriating” that while the department and government do recognise the need for these supports, any decision to create an enhanced band for Deise schools has not yet been taken.

McCarthy added that having to wait “until the OECD report is released to tell us what we already know” is having a damaging impact on children and their education.

“We need Norma Foley to have the vision to make this decision now,” McCarthy added.

He pointed to the National Educational Psychology Service (NEPS) for schools as “completely inadequate” in their current form.

Earlier this week, The Journal reported on concerns that the State’s school psychology service was “unaccountable” and missing large swathes of young people who need treatment due to strict criteria covering the number of hours each school can access a psychologist.

The group of principals has called for more mental health supports, allowing the schools to have dedicated trauma spaces and on-the-ground counselling and therapists.

They also want teaching posts, funding and classroom space dedicated to implementing “trauma informed” practices and interventions.

Shane Loftus, principal of Darndale-based Our Lady Immaculate Senior NS, said that children in the schools are affected by a series of traumatic issues.

These range from long-term intergenerational poverty, addiction and crime, to mental health issues and homelessness.

“I have been working in schools in disadvantaged areas for a long time. Understanding trauma allowed me to put my finger on a barrier to education for so many of our children,” Loftus said.

If the Department of Education does not create a new band for Deis schools to help deliver these supports, then Loftus said that the schools “will not be able to address” the children’s trauma.

If we can’t address their trauma we cannot expect them to learn in school.

Orla Hanahoe, principal of Cnoc Mhuire SNS in Killanarden, said that the schools are the centre of the community and want to be able to provide a safe and welcoming environment for their children.

“We have been providing counselling for our children for over 20 years. This has been needs driven as we respond to the trauma many children live with,” Hanahoe said.

Relationships between staff, children and parents are “vital” but a lower pupil/teacher is also essential in giving children the best possible start, she added.

Dedicated trauma space in schools

One school that has created a dedicated space for trying to address trauma in children is St Joseph’s Senior National School in Ballymun.

Principal Philip Fitzgerald said it is a “nurturing, caring space” where the children the school is most concerned about spend time.

He believes the spaces have had a major impact on learning and behaviour within the school.

“There is no way you can do a literacy or numeracy programme with a child who has suffered a trauma in the morning, they’re not ready for it,” Fitzgerald said.

The Department of Education has been contacted for comment.