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Cost of Living

Primary schools call for more funding as OECD report finds Ireland lagging behind neighbours

Primary school bodies have highlighted the increases in energy, insurance, cleaning and waste disposal costs among others.

LAST UPDATE | 12 Sep 2023

PRIMARY SCHOOL MANAGEMENT bodies have issued a joint statement today calling on the Government to provide more funding in order to relieve the burden on parents’ voluntary contributions in the face of rising costs.

Last year, minister for education Norma Foley increased the primary school capitation grant to €258 euro per pupil to assist schools in dealing with financial pressures.

“This increase was welcomed by all of the stakeholders in Primary Education, and has been critical in assisting schools to maintain financial solvency,” the joint statement read. 

“However schools’ finances remain extremely challenging due to ongoing significant increases in energy, insurance, cleaning and waste disposal costs, as well as in the cost of teaching materials and buses.”

The Primary Management Bodies, which include An Foras Pátrúnachta, CPSMA, Church of Ireland Board of Education, Educate Together, ETBI, NABMSE  and the Muslim Primary Education Board are asking for the following from the Government ahead of the upcoming budget announcement.

  • An immediate increase in the basic capitation rate to €275 per pupil.
  • An increase of 10% across all other capitation grants.
  • The ‘capping’ of the grant to an enrolment of 500 pupils should be abolished for larger schools.
  • Schools be provided with extra funding to replace the Enhanced Cleaning Grant to ensure schools are kept clean for pupils and hygiene standards can be maintained 
  • The annual funding to meet schools’ ICT costs must be restored.
  • The Grant Calendar to be fixed and communicated to schools as soon as possible.

“Investment by the state is now essential so that school communities are not totally dependent on voluntary contributions from already hard-pressed parents to provide basic requirements, such as heat, light, and water, in schools,” the joint statement said.

Among the concerns for these bodies ahead of the new school year is whether or not they will receive certain grants before Christmas, particularly one that provides funds for information and communication technology (ICT) education.

“Most schools have factored that into their budgets now,” says Caoimhín Ó hEaghra, general secretary of An Foras Pátrúnachta, a patron of Irish-medium schools in Ireland.

The grant was not given last year, which has led school managers to worry the same thing might happen this year. 

If the grants are not made available before the end of this year, schools will run into cashflow problems before the next grants come on line in January, says Ó hEaghra.

The cost of energy is also a major concern, he says, especially for those schools with pre-fab classrooms that do not retain heat well.

“One principal I’ve spoken to said the bill was 65,000 euro,” he said, while pointing to another example of a small, three-classroom school that only had the heating on for an hour in the morning and evening but still paid 11,000 euro for the year. 

Alongside the issuing of the joint statement, the heads of a number of the participating bodies made their own comments describing the difficulties facing primary schools and calling for more government support.

Seamus Mulconry, general secretary CPSMA (Catholic Primary School Management Association) said:

“Schools are under severe financial pressure and need help immediately. Schools can no longer count on a bail out from the bank of Mum and Dad. Government must fulfil its constitutional obligation to provide free primary education now. ”

Emer Nowlan, CEO of Educate Together said that last year’s increase in funding “just about enabled most schools to keep their heads above water, with many continuing to struggle to meet utility bills and other basic costs.”

Nolan said that “chronic underfunding is now at crisis level, and this is hitting disadvantaged communities and developing schools hardest”, adding that “the government must build on last year’s budget to ensure all schools have the basic funds they need.”

Dr Ken Fennelly, secretary of the Church of Ireland Board of Education, said that, according to school leaders, “the major concern expressed to me is the rising cost in the running of schools” while reiterating the need for funding to be raised to a “realistic level to reflect the current cost of living”. 

Asiya Al Tawash, Chair MPEB (Muslim Primary Education Board) said schools and parents “are now facing into ongoing financial difficulties. It is time to adequately resource the education all our children need and deserve.”

Eileen O’Rourke General Secretary NABMSE (National Association of Boards of Management of Special Education) pointed to the cost of training staff as a particular issue for special education in both special schools and schools with special classes. 

“In special schools, SNA and Bus Escort teams can frequently number over 100 people to be trained along with all other school personnel.  This training is provided by external private companies and adds up to a cost of thousands of euros which schools must pay out of their annual budget,” she said.

“These schools also purchase protective equipment and wearables for staff, often imported from the UK, which also presents another substantial financial challenge.  Schools cannot continue to  carry this extra financial burden without  the capitation and budget increases outlined  in this document.”

Paddy Lavelle of ETBI (Education and Training Boards Ireland) said that reliance on parental contributions is widening gap between students of different socio-economic backgrounds.

“With many schools resorting to parent contributions to fund the basics of running a school, the disparity between the education experiences of children from different socio-economic backgrounds is growing even further. An increase in the state funding available to schools is essential to stop this in its tracks.”

‘Lagging behind’

Today’s joint statement coincides with the publication of an OECD report that shows Ireland lags behind its European neighbours when it comes to the funding of primary education.

In reaction to the report, INTO general secretary John Boyle insisted that the Government must commit to funding at least up to the OECD average in Budget 2024.

“As part of its pre-budget campaign, the INTO has been consistently demanding a 20% increase in the school capitation grant to better fund schools and reduce the burden on parents,” the teacher’s organisation said.

The report found that countries spend an average of 9,943.86 euro per child on primary education whereas Ireland spends 10% less than that at 8,946.49 euro.

OECD countries spend on average 1.5% of their GDP on primary education. Ireland spends 1.2%, leaving it in the bottom third of countries under both measures.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has described the timing of the report’s publication as “important” ahead of next month’s budget announcement, which it says needs to “commit fully to appropriately funding education across all sectors”.

“The most concerning and damning metric in this latest set of indicators shows that of the countries for which figures are provided, none spend a lower proportion of national wealth (GDP) on education than Ireland (3%).

“This is even more pronounced at second level, where at 1%, the spend for second level is just half that of the OECD average,” TUI said in a statement. 

“Inadequate teaching allocations to schools and the failure to restore middle management positions have long been identified by TUI as key drivers of the current teacher recruitment and retention crisis, so this continuing failure to invest appropriately has had extremely damaging effects on the profession and ultimately on the service to students,” the statement read. 

“Next month’s Budget must provide the appropriate, targeted funding to finally begin the process of remedying this inaction.”

The IFUT (Irish Federation of University Teachers) also released a statement in response to the OECD report’s findings. 

IFUT general secretary, Frank Jones said:

“We are not just concerned with the levels of investment in Higher Education; we wanted to see what the OECD report told us about working and learning conditions in the sector.

“We once again learn that Ireland’s Higher Education staff to student ratio is wholly inadequate, standing at 1 staff member to every 23 students, while the OECD average is 1 to 17. This report confirms that Ireland is still lagging behind the rest of the OECD in terms of investment in tertiary education in Ireland.

“IFUT calls upon the government to accept that the time has finally come for them to honour their own promises and commitments to increase funding for higher education and to make money available in the October budget for the sector to try to make up for the years of neglect it has suffered.”

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an intergovernmental organisation with 38 Member countries that aims to “stimulate economic progress and world trade”.

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