Free primary school education has largely become a myth in modern Ireland, the head of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association has said.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic, Seamus Mulconry said that “in primary schools, free education is substantially a myth”. He said his social media observation that the State was, in practice, ignoring its constitutional duties is “absolutely true”.
“Does anyone know which Minister announced the end of free primary education? It’s in the Constitution the State shall provide for free Primary Education, just seems to be ignored in practice,” he wrote on Twitter.
Building on comments made to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills, where he explained that Irish parents pay €46 million every year to subsidise the basic running costs of schools. Mr Mulconry told this newspaper that this is taking an immense toll on principals and that as a bare minimum the Government should restore the annual capitation grant for schools to its pre-2010 amount of €200 per year.
“The overall picture we’re getting is that principals are under increasing strain through lack of resources, and there is an urgent need to restore the capitation grants to stop the ship sinking,” he said. “It won’t solve all the problems but it’s an important step to stop the ship from sinking entirely.”
Stressing that a restoration of the grant is necessary to reduce pressure on principals, since a failure to do so will lead in time to a degradation of Irish education, Mr Mulconry said the State has the capacity to turn the situation around.
“If we were given the overspend from health for two years we would revolutionise primary education, starting at principals focused on teaching and learning, which is what they need to be doing and schools the same way,” he said.
As an example of the pressures on modern schools, he pointed to how schools have not been provided with resources to enable them roll out a new programme based on learning through play.
“We all agree learning through play has an important role to play, but they have provided zero resources to practice it in schools: nothing has been given and for materials schools are reduced to begging for toys off parents,” he said.
“I’m getting sick of the fact that the health budget is sucking all the money out of the public purse, and education is being left behind,” he continued.
“Primary education is the foundation, and if you don’t get it right it’s very hard to fix it afterwards. If you do get it right you have a very solid foundation. Even if a person wanders off the track later on they can come back on – once a person can read and write the educational door is always open and they can always come back.”
Read our Feature ‘Parents Paying to Keep Schools Open‘ by Greg Daly.
To book a seat for the upcoming Education Conference hosted by The Irish Catholic, visit here.