A stark warning was delivered yesterday to Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe by Westmeath’s post-primary principals - the loss of 31 teaching positions and over €0.5 million of resourcing to Westmeath schools will have dire consequences for the future of the county’s children.
Westmeath’s 15 post-primary principals took the unprecedented step this week of uniting to protest at the recent education cutbacks and to issue a statement to alert Minister O’Keeffe, and the county’s parents, as to the severity of the situation.
Addressing the gathering of principals in the Sheraton Hotel, Athlone yesterday, principal of Athlone Community College, Val O’Connor, said the massive cuts were “devastating and totally unacceptable”.
“The students currently attending second level and those who will enter next September will be severely disadvantaged as a result of these cutbacks. What they lose cannot be made up and the consequences will evidently impact negatively on their futures.”
According to figures highlighted in a joint statement by the principals, if the proposed cuts are implemented, 31 teaching positions and funding of €578,000 for resources will be lost in the county, and there will be widespread cancellation of sporting fixtures and other educational activities.
The withdrawal of School Book Grants alone will mean a loss of €100,000 to book schemes, which face the danger of collapse, while the abolition of grants in the areas of transition year, Leaving Certificate Applied, physics and chemistry, home economics, and Travellers’ education will mean a loss of capital funding to Westmeath schools of €435,000.
The areas of adult and further education will additionally face a loss of €35,500 in school supports, while youth grants are to be cut by €7,500.
Furthermore, the abolition of disadvantaged support will impact on the most vulnerable pupils, while parents will also be required to pay more for school transport and entry fees to Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations.
It was evident at yesterday’s meeting that the proposed changes to the pupil/ teacher ratio and the reduction of substitution cover were causing particular concern among the county’s head teachers; “[These changes have] the potential to have the most devastating effect, not only on curricular activity, but also on a wide range of extra-curricular activity. Schools have very limited resources in this regard and as a consequence, curricular field trips in subject areas such as geography and science will be impossible to conduct. Sporting activities and other extra-curricular activities such as Young Scientist, Young Entrepreneurs, Young Social Innovators, etc, will be seriously curtailed and may even disappear,” explained Mr O’Connor.
“As leaders of all the second level school communities in county Westmeath, we feel duty-bound to highlight the consequences of the massive cuts on second level education provision...We are calling on councillors and members of the Oireachtas from Westmeath to intervene with the Minister on behalf of our schools.”
If the county’s parents are alerted to the effect these cuts will have, a revolt is inevitable, added PRO of the Westmeath Post Primary Education Forum, Thomas Walshe. “We want to let the parents of Westmeath know what the education cuts are doing. The teachers, parents, and management of all the post-primary schools all want the best education for our children. Come January 7, everyone will see the effects of the cuts.”
Yesterday’s meeting was attended by the principals of 13 of Westmeath’s post-primary schools - from Athlone, Thomas Blaine of Marist College, Sr Denise O’Brien of Our Lady’s Bower, Liam Nally (deputy principal ) of St Joseph’s College, Summerhill, and Val O’Connor of Athlone Community College; from Mullingar, Fr Paul O’Connell of St Finian’s, Joe O’Meara of St Mary’s CBS, Angela McGarvey of Loreto College, and Anne Hanley of Mullingar Community College; Adrian Oughton of Wilsons Hospital School, Multyfarnham; Anthony Hartnett of St Joseph’s Rochfortbridge; Kevin Duffy of Moate Community College; and Maura McAuliffe of Killucan Community College.