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General Secretary’s Irish Independent Opinion piece

5th September 2017 | General Secretary's Blog

School Yard Spin


Last week a Government Spokesperson gave a short but brilliant master class in the art of spin.

Responding to (accurate) claims that Ireland was the worst in the class when it came to spending on primary schools he helpfully pointed out that the quoted figures were a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Therefore, they are not an accurate comparison with other European countries as huge impact of the multinationals in Ireland skews our GDP to an extraordinary degree.

So far so accurate, but then he reassured us, that we were in fact spending above the average for Education as a percentage of Government spend. We might not be top of the class but we were above average, kudos to the Government.

Again true, but not the whole truth.

You see, we have the youngest population in Europe, 40% of our population is under the age of 30, and Children accounted for more than one in five (22.0%) of the Irish population

Children form 13.1% of the German population, 13.7% of the Bulgarian and 13.9% of Italy’s population.

This means we should be spending a great more on Education (and probably less on health, or at least we should have a far better health service for the money we spend).

So how do we really compare to our peers.

A few months ago “think tank” the Nevin Institute compared Irish Education spending with that in the ten leading European countries. The Institute found that Ireland spends in the region of 80% to 82% of the average on primary and lower secondary education. Well below our peers.

Ireland spends €7,220.70 per primary pupil per year, Finland spends €9,266.80, Sweden €10,938.80 and Switzerland spends a whopping €18,566.10.

Guess what’s different about September in Switzerland – there are no debates about voluntary contributions in the Swiss media.

When you cut out the spin, and massaged statistics what all of this boils down to is that hard pressed parents are digging deep to support their local schools and that Irish Principals are world leaders in fundraising.

In the sober words of accountant who works with a number of schools “From my experience there is no doubt that if a primary school does not have a proactive fund raising committee of some sort then the result for the year is a deficit and any cash reserve is quickly depleted”. This creates “stress and hardship for Primary School staff at a time when their focus should be on settling the children back in to a new school year.”

The is no way that you can run a school on the 92 cent per pupil per school day provided by the Government, buy a child a snickers bar and you’ve blown the day’s budget, buy a child a sliotar and you’ve not only blown the budget for the week you’re in deficit. The fact is that most of us spend more on the daily coffee and Danish on the way to work than the state provides for the running costs of schools.

To be fair to the Department of Education they would privately agree, and they fought a valiant but unsuccessful rear guard action to protect the primary budget from Ministerial cuts.

The Irish Primary System is working, its’ doing a superb job mainly due to the quality and the commitment of the people who teach in, lead and support the management of local Primary schools.

We need, and more importantly our children need Principals and teachers to be focused on teaching and learning, not fundraising. If the Government wants to cut the cost of going back to school for parents, the answer is simple – increase the investment in schools and restore the capitation grant to €200 per pupil.

Restoring the capitation grant would cost roughly €16.5m a rounding error in overall Government spending terms. To put the figure in context the Dail saved €17.4m by not sitting due to the election and formation of the Government, (if Leinster House haven’t spent the savings we can find a good home for it).

Restoring the capitation grant represents a rounding error for Government but it would be a real boost for schools and real boon to parents feeling the financial pressures of the return to school. If Government wants a targeted measure to help young families, restoring the capitation grant would be a great way to do it. It would also enable a FG Minister the opportunity to undue a Labour cut.

Primary schools are the indispensable element of the Education system. The skills you learn in Primary schools are skills you will use all your life. We shouldn’t be short changing the next generation by failing to make the modest investments needed to fund the running of our schools.

If we want to create a republic of opportunity, we have to invest in the seed capital of primary education.

As for the Government spin doctor I think he’s missing his vocation he should really try criminal law he has a genius for defending the indefensible. Because no one can honestly defend Ireland’s underinvestment in Primary Education

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