By Dan Danaher
Well-known Clare INTO activist Seán McMahon has thrown down the gauntlet to Clare’s six Oireachtas members by requesting their unequivocal opposition to estimated Budget cuts of €100 million in education.
Addressing a public meeting organised by the INTO in The West County Hotel, Ennis on Thursday night, the INTO vice-president cautioned that investment in education should not be sacrificed to pay for the greed of Celtic Tiger bankers and speculators who walked away with obscene pensions, lump sums and bonuses.
The meeting, which was attended by over 350 primary school teachers and parents, heard calls from numerous speakers for the Government to abandon plans for further cuts to the education system.
In fact, Mr McMahon proposed that tax loopholes and tax breaks for the higher earners would generate enough income to avoid the planned education cuts of up to €100 million.
“I call on the Government to stop injecting worry and anxiety into communities throughout County Clare and nationwide who rightly fear that their communities are being torn apart and that they are being taxed out of existence by successive austerity budgets. This approach is fundamentally flawed, misguided and completely devoid of planning,” he argued.
McMahon stated there was a short distance between the “ballot box and the primary school”.
He recalled that there has been “savage” cuts to special education, English as an additional language, the summer works scheme, a 15% cut in resource hours for all special needs pupils and removal of the minor works grant.
He claimed the pupil teacher ratio, derived by dividing the number of teachers by the pupils, was a meaningless figure because it factors in non-teaching personnel, resource teachers, learning support teachers and teaching principals.
He argued the only true figure was the size of classes, which in Clare was very high as 3,585 were in a “supersized” classroom of 30 or more; 1,887 were in classrooms of 0-19 students and 8,029 were being taught in classrooms with between 20 and 29.
Criticising the adherence to a “magic number”, which determines the number of teachers in a school, he requested the Department of Education to move away from this “madness”.
“I was talking to a teacher in the Ennis area who had 37 pupils in second class. In that class were four children whose first language was not English, an autistic pupil and a pupil with Aspergers.
“I was talking to a teacher in a two teacher school with 52 pupils. There were 31 pupils between third, fourth, fifth and sixth with a teaching principal who is doing two jobs. It is difficult to deliver four curricula and be the teacher, principal and administrator of that grouping.
“The most poignant conversation was a principal in a one-teacher school with 17 students across eight classes,” he said.